Sticks and Stones
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”
We all know the saying; we’ve probably even used it ourselves. How many parents have tried to console their kids who have been cruelly teased by quoting it? The only problem is that it is not true and we all know it.
This weekend brought the tragic news that Matthew Warren, son of pastor and author Rick Warren, committed suicide after a life-long struggle with depression. Our hearts break as we pray for the Warren family. I am sure there will be an outpouring of love and support for the family and this is as it should be. For those who are close to them, who will be supporting them in person, this is a time when you know that words fail in expressing all the love and caring you feel.
But words do have power and, in particular, ill-chosen words can really hurt. I’ve shared on this blog before that theology makes poor comfort for the grieving. When we go to the hurting with “good” theology the words hurt. “God will make all things work together for good.” “God will never give you more than you can bear.” “He is with his heavenly father now and his suffering is over.” Who would dare say these to the Warrens today, let alone some of the more “negative” theology that makes some say that their son was sinning?
Suicide is particularly challenging. We Christians have never been good in dealing with it or with all aspects of depression. One example is this article on the Christianity Today website. The title line is chilling – “Should Christians Take Antidepressants?” The subtitle, “Medication can help, but it can also hinder our reliance on Christ.”, is even worse. While the article tries to strike a caring tone it ends with this line –
“Certainly antidepressants can take the edge off the pain of living in this broken world. But is it possible that we need those edges, which so often lead us to Christ.”
Who would want to share that line with the Warrens today? Worse yet, take out the word “antidepressants” and substitute the word “antibiotics” and the sentence still makes sense but no serious Christian would utter it. All of us would have the tact to not say anything like that, in person, to those who are hurting.
But we say those things, and many other hurting things, from our pulpits, our blogs, our articles, our speeches, and our conversations and never think twice about the hurt they can cause. All pastors, politicians, speakers and, yes, bloggers can tell you about words that hurt. One blogger even made the decision to turn her hate mail into origami. The problem is that, even as we receive them, we are prone to utter them too.
Nobody would be intentionally cruel to the Warrens in their grief today. Oh wait, yes some would. You can find them online if you like but I am not going to help you search for it. But there are thousands of anonymous vulnerable people out there who can be hurt just as easily.
We are in an interconnected world. No sermon, speech, blog article, Facebook post, tweet or casual public comment goes unnoticed. Once it is out there we have no way to call them back. As a Christian I have two burdens. One is to realize that well-meant words can easily be hurtful, even when I don’t intend them to be. The second is to allow grace to permeate all my communication.