Sticks and Stones, and Serious Words


In grade school a boy told me that my legs looked like the Amazon forest, referring to the never-been-shaved hair on them. I was in fifth grade
and mortified.

A good friend tells the story of a boy chasing her after school, throwing rocks, and yelling, “Run, Fat-so, run!” It isn’t the rocks she remembers as much as the words. A broken bone would have healed more quickly than the damage of those words.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” – Really? My experiences don’t lend truth to this phrase, and I don’t think I am alone.

As I reflect over my life and the various movements, words are something that have moved with me. Sadly, I have trouble forgetting the ones that hurt, but thankfully, I also remember the ones full of gratitude and sincerity. The one where someone surprised me with a compliment or a moment of earnestness.

I think a lot of us have become uncomfortable with sincerity. We start to feel a little uneasy when someone chooses to be earnest. We opt for the moment of humor, or sarcasm, or jump at the quick jab that evokes laughter rather than engage with the heart-felt conversation.

I have definitely been guilty of this. I still remember as a young college student sitting at the coffee shop in the newly renovated Memorial Union (when it was the cool coffee-house on campus) and having an older guy whom I respected say to me, “You know, Erin, just because something is funny, doesn’t mean you have to say it. It is okay not to be sarcastic.”

Those words stung, in a bad way, but I am glad I heard them. I didn’t want this to be true of me. God used that comment as a catalyst in my life to start thinking more intentionally about my words – what I said and how they affected others. And slowly, I started working on it . . .

It takes years to break bad habits. Anyone who hangs out with me can attest to this. I still love a good joke or even poking fun, but on balance I want to be more about building people up. To that end, I started a little game in my family that we try to play at birthdays. For lack of a better name, we call it the ‘cupcake game’ (just because I cut out cupcakes to write on the back of!). It’s quite simple. Each person draws a cupcake and follows the instructions on the back.

Here are the 6 cupcakes (and their good F word):

  • FUNNY – A Funny memory of the special person
  • FAITH – Anything encouraging about the special person and their Faith
  • FEATURE – Your favorite Feature/trait of the special person
  • FAMILY – Anything encouraging about the special person and their Family relationships
  • FAVORITE – Your Favorite memory of the special person
  • FIRST – Your First memory of the special person

We have had so much fun with this game. There are moments of laughter and moments of heart-felt genuineness. At my son’s birthday a few months back, his younger sister told him that her favorite trait about him is when he reads to her. My mom followed up and told him the story of first meeting him when she flew to England when he was six days old, and we all got the stomach bug. My husband had the chance to encourage him in his faith, noting how he had seen what appeared to be genuine growth over the past year. At the age of ten my son sat there and listened, and in a ten-year-old way, I think he felt encouraged, built-up, and loved.

Recently, we also played it with a girlfriend. We sat around the table and shared about how much she meant to each of us. One friend told a funny story of sharing a hotel room together (and all that encompasses!); another friend thanked her for being one of the few friends she has who actually speaks gospel truth to her; another thanked her for being the first person to truly befriend her when moving here. There was some laughter, a few tears, and lots of genuineness. She later sent us a text and specifically thanked us for the kind words. I also gave this friend a bottle of wine as a present. I am sure that bottle of wine is long gone, but hopefully the words she heard that day linger on.

I share these stories and this ‘game’, not because I am a pro at this, but precisely because I am not. I need this game to remind me to do this. The Bible mentions our speech a lot. I want Ephesians 4:29 to be in play in my life, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I want to take my words and how I build those around me up seriously. I want those around me to be comfortable with sincerity. Knowing words are serious business with lasting consequences, I want to respond in kind.

Proverbs 16:24 “kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

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