It is very easy to post a comment on Instagram or Facebook without thinking much about it. It only takes a few seconds to send a text message. It is easy to say an unkind word or make fun of someone. It is very easy to hurt someone with words.
Recently I read a heart-breaking true story by a 17-year-old girl. She told about how her classmates in high school had mocked her and sent her very ugly messages.
Unfortunately, her story is only one of many. In her story, she begs and pleads for us to be careful of what we say and write to each other. “Words can kill. Remember this when school starts,” she says.
Even though the examples she shares are horrible and ugly, it is the images of the text messages she received that hurt most. “You’re ugly,” they write, “you deserve to die.” She is harshly accused of horrible crimes with no evidence. Rumours spread quickly through social media.
Words that tear down
People are not only hurt by physical beatings. Words can quickly break down a person’s self-confidence to nothing. Text messages that tell you that no one cares about you, or that no one likes you because of how you look, can do a lot of damage which can last for years. Maybe they were meant as a joke; maybe the person sending them was together with some friends when he or she wrote it, and said them under pressure. All those are no excuse for such behaviour.
We’re not just talking about words that take the form of death threats, like this poor girl received. We’re not just talking about bullying. We’re talking about unfeeling, hurtful, criticising words that you and I can easily say without thinking. Words that can hurt, that make someone feel unsure or excluded. That is never right. Even if we don’t mean it in a bad way, we should never say or send a message that makes people feel this way.
This is one of the great dangers with social media – people feel far enough from the person they are writing to, so that they feel they do not need to be careful about what they say or share with others. And it happens very quickly; just a short message, and “send”.
Is it possible to wipe out words?
Words do not disappear. They stay in the thoughts of those who receive them, and also in God’s memory. This applies to good and evil, because God is a righteous judge. (Matthew 12:37.) Let us not say or write anything we wouldn’t repeat, and let us stop to think again before we laugh at someone or make mocking comments.
But if we do say things we are later sorry for, the best thing we can do is to make it right. Ask for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness can be hard, and takes courage. We all need forgiveness, most of all from God Himself. (Ephesians 4:32.) When we pray for this from a true and honest heart, then God is good and forgives us all kinds of sin, even thoughtless words.
But we also need to make it right with those we have hurt. Then we can pray that God gives us a new attitude of mind, and that we can start over so that the same thing doesn’t happen again. We should change completely so that those kinds of words no longer come out of us.
Choose to bless instead
What is the opposite of hurting someone? Blessing. What is the opposite of criticising? Encouraging. It is written that the fruits of living a life for God are goodness, righteousness, and truth. (Ephesians 5:9.) This must show in our words. Think to be an example in these things instead of being someone who tears down with negative words. We are called to build up, to be kind to each other, to bless. We can use messages and social media for this purpose as well. Then we say and post words we will never be sorry about, either now or in eternity!
“Don't let anyone look down on you because of your youth; on the contrary, set the believers an example in your speech, behavior, love, trust and purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 (CJB).
We need to always be watchful so that our words don’t bring darkness to anyone, but instead bring light.
“Lord, help me control my tongue; help me be careful about what I say.” Psalm 141:3 (NCV).