I remember learning the rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I believe this childhood playground rhyme is simply NOT true. Words matter. Words can be hurtful and soul-breaking. Words are powerful and communicate a lasting message to those who hear them. I recently read a devotional written by Jan Richardson who shared a description of a man suffering from a brain tumor. The brain tumor had impacted the part of his brain that controlled his speech causing him to only randomly articulate words. At random, he would say, “Blessing, blest, grace, friends, church, my voice, your voice.” Jan reflected that perhaps these words were the words that he regularly used in his life prior to the brain tumor and thus provided a definition or synopsis of his life. Richardson said,
“I find myself wondering: if I were able to speak only the words that I had used most often in my life, which ones would come to the surface? Which words would I remember best? Or perhaps the question is, which words would remember me best, finding their way to me because I loved them and used them so frequently?”
I have been challenged to think of the words I commonly use and what they might convey about me. I would hope these regular would be: “love, grace, inclusion, promise, hope, amazing, and life.” I fear that my family frequently hears the words, “no, stop, be nice, don’t, not now, come here, enough, and hurry up!” These sets of words are in opposition to each other. One set of these words opens opportunity and creates space; while the other closes and shut downs. One set of words build-up and the other tears down. As a mom, I must continue to correct my children, and I desire to find ways for my words to reflect my heart. My heart deeply cries out, “love, grace, inclusion, promise, hope, amazing and life.” In this new year, it is my desire for these words to most frequently find their way out of my mouth.
The United Methodist Church advertises ourselves as “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” And yet some hear from the UMC, “we’ve never done it that way,” “stop running in the sanctuary,” “don’t show-up dressed like that,” or “you’re not welcome come here.” Two opposite sets of words spoken by the church. Words matter. The church’s words hurt, exclude, and send people away hurting. As I continue to pray for our way forward, I hear the words of Jesus:
Rev. Sally Queen is the pastor of Myers Memorial UMC in Gastonia, NC.
“Come to me, ALL you who that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29