Sadly, the truth of the matter is that this old saying just ain't true. Words do hurt and, if repeated again and again, over time they can cripple us.
Before the "sticks and stones saying", God inspired Paul and others to write a very different message.
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
And Jesus said in the book of Matthew 15:10-11
"And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
Recently I was contacted by a friend. She had just read something I had written and the words brought back a flood of memories for her. These were painful memories of being shamed and ridiculed, told that she was "stupid" and "bad". These words were spoken to her when she was just a little girl, but here she was, at the age of 40, still crying about them. Reliving the pain of how those words did indeed "break her bones" by profoundly breaking her spirit. A recent Christian song also shares how significant spoken words can affect our lives. I've shared the song below.
She also shared with me that because of her experiences she is VERY, VERY careful about the words she speaks to others. To her children, she is a mother who relishes in praising them. And to friends, she is the one who always has the kind word and the encouragement that we all need to hear. God has taught her the importance of words and she is following His lead in order to heal her own heart and in order to make sure others don't have to suffer through her same experiences.
Reading her words was eye-opening to me. Her hurt and pain are real. They are a tangible reminder for me to stop and think before speaking. They also reminded me that, for the most part, children's emotions and feelings are the same. Our children with life challenges are just like other children. Although they may look or act a little bit differently (or may not!), they experience emotions, pain, and joy just like anyone else does. Some may not always understand sarcasm or wit, but some may understand it just fine. Some may not read social cues or understand lofty vocabulary. But some may understand and read these situations perfectly. The truth is, it doesn't matter what we perceive that they understand. The way we treat them should not differ from the way we should treat anyone else. Although they may be different on some levels, like all of us, they have the same capacity to feel hurt, shame and fear.
Therefore, our words should always uplift, and never condemn, ridicule or shame. Yes, sometimes children need discipline, ALL children. Yes, sometimes they need redirection. And sometimes they need punishment. But the words we use when we take these actions should always come from love and should be used to teach, not tear down.
We need to teach our children this lesson too. Children are often the cruelest perpetrators. Why, I'm not sure. Have they not been taught compassion or empathy? Are they modeling behavior they have seen in others? Or are they simply in need of being educated? Probably all of the above. And as parents, it's our job to make sure we do teach them compassion and truth, modeling the behavior that Christ modeled for us.
Words CAN break our bones by breaking our hearts and our spirits. They can break our lives if we replay them in our heads like a broken record. Let your words make someone's day, not break someone's heart. Be that unexpected gift and blessing to others, sharing God's love for ALL the little children (and big children) of the world!
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11