The Old Paths: The matter of words

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

Remember that old rhyme from childhood: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? We would chant that when someone was saying something bad about us, trying to talk ourselves into believing that the negative words didn’t hurt.

But they did.

Words matter. They penetrate our very bodies and lodge in our soul realm where our mind, will and emotions dwell. There on the inside, negative words can wound us, resulting in scars we often carry with us all of our lives. Since nobody can see them, we learn to be masters of deception—covering up the scars with a smile or, conversely, a gruff exterior.

Yet all along, we still feel the sting of what was said, and we may even let it influence us on life’s journey. The echoes of “You’re no good,” “You’re ugly” or “You’ll never amount to anything” can haunt us to the point of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

And then there are the positive words. Those are the ones we long to hear, the ones we treasure for all of our lives, the ones that bear the fruits of joy and peace. They encourage us and lighten our hearts.

The Bible speaks a lot on this topic of words. Proverbs 12:18 says: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 16:24 uses a sweet metaphor: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” The Book of Proverbs is full of Scriptures about the power of words.

I used to think a lot about words when I was a Little League parent back on the old paths at Lions Park in Walnut Cove. Words were a dime a dozen down there as spectators cheered on the players…..and sometimes berated them with negative words. Many’s the time I saw a kid make an error in the field and hear the parent yell out, “Johnny, what’s the matter with you?!!” or “Susie, why did you let that ball get by you?!”

I used to cringe for the sake of the child. Do you think the poor kid made the error on purpose? Don’t you think he/she already feels terrible enough about it without you twisting the knife in a little deeper?

If you just have to say something, wouldn’t it be better to offer some constructive criticism? “Be sure to keep your glove down, Susie!” or “Try not to run in on a fly ball, Johnny.” And punctuate your advice with an encouraging word: “You can do this, Susie!” or “You’ll get it next time, Johnny!”

I heard my pal, Mike Marshall (not the Sheriff), waxing wise on this subject last Sunday evening as our sons were teammates at an adult league baseball game. He was telling me how the crowd getting behind a team can make a positive difference, and I was agreeing.

We saw this principle in action as our team was down by four runs in the last inning. The fans stayed positive, encouraging the guys to keep believing in Yogi Berra’s famous maxim, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Our boys quickly scored four runs to tie the game, then came back to win in extra innings.

I often see the power of encouraging words from a young man on our team named Jake. He’s not showy or loud but instead, humble and encouraging. If a player strikes at a pitch, Jake might call out, “Not a bad hack!” When a batter is in a pressure situation and perhaps feeling inadequate, Jake often says, “Nobody better!”

Just this week, I was going through a tough time and needed some encouragement. Since the Bible says that King David encouraged himself, I went to YouTube to watch some inspirational clips from “Lord of the Rings.” One of them brought me to tears, and the next thing I knew, my little boy was by my side patting my head saying, “I’m here for you, Mommy.” Those five words made a difference.

Later that night, my adult daughters hung out with me, speaking encouraging words and reminding me of God’s promises. Then a Facebook friend who had no idea I was feeling under the weather sent me a private message telling me she had just suddenly felt to tell me how much she loves and values me. Every positive word pierced the darkness a little more.

I believe people who frequently speak negative words have a disturbance in their soul. When the Bible says that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, I surely believe it. What’s in your heart tends to come out of your mouth. A heart full of joy and love will speak uplifting and inspiring words that heal. That goes along with yet another Scripture: “A merry heart does good like medicine.”

Even a person who doesn’t subscribe to the Christian faith would probably admit that all of the aforementioned Scriptures are full of wisdom and truth. Few can deny the fact that words do matter.

Wounded people tend to wound others, and children of parents who speak negatively will likely follow in their faulty footsteps. Adults, remember when your parents and teachers used to tell you to mind your manners? Well, I’m encouraging you to mind your words—especially when it comes to children.

We adults have had enough practice putting up shields and walls to protect us that we can take negative words better than an innocent child. When you wound their tender souls, you may make a permanent impression. Guard your tongue for the sake of a child’s life.

Here’s an experiment for you: squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube and then try to put it back. You can’t. Neither can you take back the discouraging words you have spoken or erase their damage.

But your encouraging words will go forth like positive ripples in the universe because when you lighten a heart, that heart will be more likely to lighten another and so on and so forth. In the tongue is the power of life and death; speak LIFE!

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News