Life & Death are in the Power of the Tongue

Words really matter.  They don’t go away… especially the ones we wish would disappear, the ones we wish we could take back. Those don’t go away.

Surely it has happened to you.  You are in a fight with someone you care about – like your spouse or your child.  You feel really frustrated or pushed into a corner and then out it comes.  The dagger, the sword, the bullet that pierces their heart.  And years later, the pain remains.  Occasionally, it comes up again.  They remind you.  Or you want to say it again because you get angry again.  Words of death that just won’t go away!

Words… so much revolves around our words.  And yet, many are forgotten.  Sometimes the best ones are forgotten.  I fail to remember your words of affirmation or kindness, but dial in on the words that damage.  They sting.  They remain.  They define.  I wonder why I can remember the damaging words more than the encouraging ones?

The power of words to affect us reflects our vulnerability.  People have power.  Relationships matter.  Words from those who count have real impact.

But sometimes that power is unhealthy.  We retain words that others have sorrowfully repented of and then use them to either ‘safely’ distance ourselves or to support negative feelings against ourselves.  We give those words power and use them to accomplish our own objectives.  They prove what we fear – that we are unlovable.  They justify what we want – giving us a reason to stay distant from others rather than risk.

Lynne and I can almost laugh at some of the hurtful things I said in the first year of our marriage.  They weren’t intended maliciously.  But they were very hurtful.  And with that, very powerful.  Almost 40 years in, we both remember them with a wince.

Over time, I am learning to put people’s words in perspective.  I really want to believe what God says of me and to me more than I believe or trust in what people say – especially if it doesn’t represent what they would usually say or would say when they weren’t angry.  I want to hear and be impacted by words but not defined by them.

I used to think that I needed to erase them, but discovered that I can’t.  The memory and the pain remain.  But I can forgive and not hold those words against others.  I can walk with a limp, but still walk.  I can love and engage with a freedom that comes from putting those words in their proper place – and God’s words in their proper place.

Now I don’t do that perfectly.  Sometimes I can think the right way, but my heart still feels the pain and wants to run away or fight.  But more often than not, I can be aware of the choice.  More often than not, aware of a choice of whose words I want to define me, then I can make a decision to trust Him and to love them, whatever the heck that might mean at the moment.

Words matter.  People matter.  But hopefully, God’s words matter more.  Hopefully… Eventually… Please Lord.




Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.

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