The Power of Words
by Anna Kuta
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
We’ve all heard the phrase “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” In my mind, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
Words are powerful. We’ve all, no doubt, been wounded at some point by careless, unkind or mean statements. Their effect on our lives, even years later, is undeniable. No matter how much we deny it, it still makes us cringe to remember the taunts of the second-grade bully on the playground and makes us want to crawl under a rock to think of that rumor spreading through the high school hallways.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” Proverbs 18:21 says. The impact our words have on others cannot be overstated. One small comment or remark can make the difference between building a relationship up or tearing it down. We have the power to either encourage or destroy others with our speech.
The Bible speaks extensively about the power of words – especially positive ones – and warns about the dangers of careless ones. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” says Proverbs 15:1. “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones,” Proverbs 16:24 adds. Ephesians 4:29 says, “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 Matthew 12:36-37 says: “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
One particular instance of the power of words in my life stands out in my mind – one that, without exaggerating, very likely changed my whole course at that time. It was early in the second semester of my sophomore year of college, and I was trudging up the stairs of the journalism building to turn in an assignment. Freshman year and the first half of sophomore year had been rough for a variety of reasons, and now I was struggling to juggle my classes, work and personal issues and keep my head afloat. I had to officially declare my major in just a few weeks, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was one of those weeks where I seemed to be failing on every assignment, and to top it off, I had just come from a disastrous meeting with an econ professor who made me feel stupid for not understanding an “easy” problem. Even in my journalism classes – my best subject – I couldn’t seem to get into the swing of things. The harder I tried, the worse the results seemed to be. I was beginning to worry that majoring in journalism would be the most terrible idea of my life, and I was, in all honesty, becoming more and more tempted to give it all up completely and go take a semester off somewhere.
On my way out of the journalism building, I passed two of my professors talking in the hallway. I said hi to them and kept walking, but after I rounded the corner I stopped short as I heard one of them say to the other, “Anna is one of the most hard-working and good journalism students.” I don’t know if he meant for me to overhear his statement, and I don’t remember hearing either of them say a single other thing, but his words made me freeze and stand there for a good 10 seconds. A good student – that’s really what he thought? My work was paying off? I wasn’t a total journalistic failure who would never succeed as a writer? It was like right then and there something went off in my mind. I hadn’t even realized I needed the encouragement, but suddenly my whole outlook changed. If that’s what my professor thought of me, then I was determined not to let him down. Many times throughout the rest of college when I doubted myself or just needed a pick-me-up, I thought back to his comment. He became one of my most trusted mentors, and before I graduated I was finally able to tell him how his words that day had probably been the turning point in my whole academic career. To this day, I still don’t know what it was about that one simple statement – but I do know its impact went a thousand times beyond what my professor could have ever imagined.
A kind, positive or encouraging word at the right time can truly be life-changing. Your words hold the power to breathe an attitude of death or life into others – which will you choose?
Intersecting Faith & Life: Let us strive to remember the power of our words and their impact on those who hear them. Think twice before making a negative statement, and instead find a way to pass along an encouraging word today.