I think we often share from the place of our own despair and areas of needed change. After a long hiatus, I am here today to do just that.
Some of this will also be located on the podcast. “Because It’s Important.” Be sure to tune in to that, please, and share it as you feel led.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but…you know the rest and the rest is untrue! Words, names and comments from people in our lives, whether significant influencers or random acquaintances, can cut deeply, encourage eternally, last forever and have a powerful say in the kind of person we are.
Parents, listen well! The most seemingly innocuous comments (those even meant for adult laughs) can live on in the hearts and minds of our children. For a personal example, my mom who raised me alone, often said, “Marthalee, what is the matter with you??” Now I know in my mind she was referring to the pile of clothes left unattended; or perhaps I had not washed the dishes properly; or accidentally left the water running in the bathroom sink. No matter the cause, those words ring in my spirit to this day as my heart tries to answer the question: ‘What is the matter with me?’ There must be a problem she saw that still escapes my rational mind!
Afterall, she was my mother! The one who bore me; the one who knew me best. Surely this question has an answer! And now, at such an age, I realize all my life has been spent searching for that answer. What is the matter with me? What is wrong with my personality that elicited such a question from my own mother? Surely there must be a hidden and very serious problem. But is there? Must my days be spent continually searching for ‘the matter?” Is there a way to turn off this childhood sound that seems to be on repeat? Can the trauma such a painful comment caused be healed? I don’t even know. All I do know, though, is that every time I make a mistake; every time I speak out of turn or say a hurtful thing, those words scream from deep inside: “Marthalee, what is the matter with you??”
And, God-forbid someone I love should correct me! The depth of humiliation and despair that results are beyond words to describe. Everything within me wants to hide away and see no one. Those words hurt more than sticks and stones ever could! So, this is my story. What is yours? What words are you even saying this day that could thrust your children into this kind of life-long struggle? Maybe your casual comments, never meant to sting, actually condemn your child to a life of self-searching with no resulting victory. Please consider.
For example, words spoken in jest to other adults like, “Oh, just ignore Johny, he always cries when…” Or “That’s just like her, always interrupting.” Or even worse, in the hearing of the child, “If I had it to do over again, I would not have had any children.” Just imagine how much pain such statements could inflict on the budding spirit, especially if the adults laugh.
And then, more directly to a child we could say something like, “Will you never listen?” “How do you expect to get anything done being so lazy?” “How can you live in this mess?” ”You will never succeed in life with that attitude!” There are so many ways well-meaning parents (and others) damage young spirits with words spoken in a tone that demeans and undercuts the budding image of self.
Such thoughtless phrases shape and mold the personality in a negative way. These and other statements like them, though well-meaning, can severely damage children. Conversely, think how uplifting words can foster the positive outcome we all truly desire for the young ones in our life. “Your choice of colors in that drawing show a real artistic talent, honey.” That sentence is more impactful than, “Nice drawing, honey.” It may take more time, more intentionality, but phrasing sincere admiration for each effort your child makes reaps benefits like nothing else! Even older children flourish under intentional admiration from adults in their life.
Here is a scenario for you. (Apply its principle to whatever moment fits your field of influence.) You send your teenager to clean up their room. (Or to complete their math assignment, or recite their memory verse, etc.) When you go to check on their progress, the first thing you see is clothes and toys still all over the floor. (Or problems left undone, or words left out of recitation.) Your initial response could be one of disappointment that causes a feeling of failure in the child. Or you could see that they smoothed up the covers on their bed, even though not as neatly as YOU would like, and without bending to remake the bed or pick up the toys you simply say something like: “Your bed looks nice, sweetie. Good start!” Then you smile, rough up their hair, give a hug and go back to your own tasks. In the comparison of the math assignment or memory verse, comment on any positive thing you can find; encouraging further effort and help if requested. Always say things like, “I am so confident that your skills will shine forth and your efforts will bring success.” SPEAK LIFE AND LOVE into the ears, hearts and minds of the young ones that huddle around you.
Always as the question: “thirty years from now, will this really matter?” The room cleanliness will not! Algebra won’t either. The encouraged spirit of the child will!
So, I still don’t know the answer to my dilemma. I am still trying to figure out what is the matter with me. Now I ask Jesus to help me become. I go to his word for my positive encouragement and for my needed correction. Even as an ‘older’ and mature adult, I desire words of encouragement and love; we all do.
So, I pray this for you and me: May the loving arms of the Savior wrap around all our hurt and heal the wounds hidden deeply in our little spirits. And may we purpose to speak words to others that foster personal victory, In Jesus Name.