Forgiving Words

“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.”

~Luke 12.7

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  Parents teach their children this simple rhyme that is in fact a complicated lie to inoculate them from the painful experience of being teased or bullied or to prepare them for the certain verbal assault of their peers upon entering a new school or neighborhood, beginning a new sport or activity or gaining a new pubescent body.  Instead, an honest conversation about self and body image, respect and conflict management would serve them well, instilling in them a self- confidence and assurance not dependent upon the flunctuating allegiance of their peers but rooted in a love for self and grounded in the love of God.

And though it rhymes, it is still wrong.  It is a chant that encourages persons to internalize their pain, to deny it or to mask it.  It suggests to the child that if the word does hurt that there is something wrong with her or him.  But, words do hurt us and though they may not lead to broken bones, words that have been invented to recreate a human being as an animal, an object or the social “other”; to vandalize her and his body and deface its aesthetic property; or, to redefine the existence of some to their social, personal and spiritual detriment do result in broken hearts, broken spirits, broken lives, broken relationships and broken people.

Race is a bully and the vocabulary of race is hurtful.  In times past, race had pulled my hair and called it “nappy.”  Before I ever touched my hair, race already had a name for it.  The childhood rhyme did nothing to assist me in wrestling my identity from it.  The words of race were not pebbles but boulders, sometimes hurled at me and other times placed on my shoulders.

Nappy.  I never liked the name and the word did hurt me.  It was not a word that I would have chosen for my hair.  Race had stolen an initial experience that rightfully belonged to me, pushed my individuality down, scraping the knee of my psyche and told me that I should be “happy to be nappy.”  But, I wasn’t and I needed to confront race as I would not be bullied anymore.

Afterwards, I needed to sit down with the words that had hurt me and tell them how they made me feel.   I would not remain a victim but had to claim the pain of race’s verbal abuse.  I had to stop living in denial and I had to remove the mask.  I needed to see myself for myself and not as race had told me that I appeared.  When I did, I was able to forgive the words that hurt me and they don’t hurt me anymore because I am no longer ignorant of who I am and consequently, I am comfortable in any setting.

I have moved on to choose words that love me, that celebrate me and that encourage my spiritual health and personal wholeness.  There is power in forgiveness and there is freedom in forgiving words.  Besides, if God thought the hairs on my head were important enough to count, then they are important enough to keep.

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