Do you remember that saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”? Do you remember saying it with emphasis, sticking your tongue out at the end to add a silent “SO THERE!”? Well, that was one of my favorite sayings. I said it a lot and meant it.
But there’s this thing about the old saying; it’s totally wrong.
Our pastor reminded our church of this a few weeks ago and it stuck with me. How often has what someone said to me stuck like Krazy Glue to my heart and impacted my thought life? How often has what I have said to others impacted them, for better or worse?
Words have power.
I will never forget the day in high school that I realized I wasn’t good enough. I was 16 years old and full of life and age-appropriate innocence, as 16-year-old girls should be. I was a cheerleader, played volleyball, sang in concert choir and had some great friends.
One day I was walking down the hall to my next class and my then crush came up behind me and grabbed me from behind. For a quick instant I got all excited, thinking “Oh! He touched me!” like nothing better in the world could happen (remember, I was 16 and that was a pretty big deal). So I said, “Hey! What’s up?” He replied with, “What’s that?” and I was like, “Uh, what?” and he grabbed my back again and said, “This!” and squeezed a fold of skin. I said, “Um, skin?” and he said, “Nope. That’s fat.” and ran off.
In no less than 2 seconds I went from excitement to devastation and total insecurity. Was I really fat? Is that how he saw me? Did everyone see me like that?
It was honestly the first time the thought had ever entered my mind. My family was good about making sure we felt good about ourselves. Not falsely, but just making sure we felt comfortable in our skin. And until that comment, I did.
Words have power.
After that I began paying attention to other girls’ builds. This one had long, lean legs. That one had a tiny waist. This one had a larger bust than I did.
Now before you begin to think that I developed an eating disorder, know this: I did not. I am thankful that I was surrounded by sound-minded people who inadvertently reminded me of my worth outside of my body. Except that guy. That guy was a jerk.
What I did do, however, was get mad. I’m still mad. I am angry at the lies being fed not only to women and girls but also to men about what women should look like and be like to be accepted and valued.
I am frustrated that at just 8 years old my daughter has asked questions like, “If I eat this will I get fat?” That question was prompted by the comment of another 8-year-old girl who said, “You’re fat! I’m skinny!” to my girl at recess. My girl is not fat. My girl is not a beanpole. My girl is strong and healthy. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t want to go have words with that girl.
In our house we talk about eating well to make our bodies strong but I have never and WILL NEVER stand in front of a mirror and ask “Does this make my butt look big?” or “Oh I can’t have that… I’m on a diet.” Why? Because WORDS HAVE POWER. I don’t ever want my daughters OR my sons to think that their value comes from what the do or do not put in their mouths. I don’t want my sons to look at a girl’s body like a prize to be won or to judge her on what she looks like. Unless they’re fighting to win a girl’s heart for marriage, they’d better treat all girls like their sisters — minus the sibling rivalry. I don’t want my girls to think that the length of their shorts or the size of their waists determine their value to others.
But how are they going to learn this when we’re bombarding our kids with magazines with story headlines like, “Have the Best Casual Sex of Your Life” (Self Magazine, August 2014), “Who Wore it Best?” (People Magazine, every week), “The Easiest Way to Eat Less!” (Women’s Health, August 2014) .
You guys. What IS this? There is a market for these things ONLY because we’ve been taught for centuries that what we are is not good enough. We’ve been taught, from the time we’re young, that beautiful is thin, long-legged, medium busted, dainty, highlighted, lipsticked, small-waisted and flirtatious and that our clothing should show off as much of that goodness as possible.
But what about these things? A kind heart, a contagious laugh, a vibrant spirit, compassion for others, thoughtfulness, generosity, willingness to serve others, intelligence. Without these things, there is no beauty. There is a facade of elegance perhaps, but how sad if when our time is up in this world people say, “Wow, she had great hair. I’m going to miss those highlights.” or “Those legs will never be forgotten.”
Those people in our lives who we remember most after they’ve passed away are those whose beauty poured out from their hearts, not from their make-up bag.
What makes a woman beautiful? Here’s what the Bible has to say:
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” –1 Peter 3:3-4
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” –Proverbs 31:30
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” –1 Corinthians 13:4-8
“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,” (The lilies are naturally beautiful, they don’t work themselves into a tizzy trying to look good) –Matthew 6:28
“But the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS and SELF-CONTROL. Against such things there is no law.” –Galatians 5:22-23
So beauty in the eyes of God is this: a gentle & quiet spirit (no, you don’t have to be overly dainty and not speak… this means that you’re not overbearing or obnoxious. You can still be outgoing, friendly… true to how God made you) , fear of the Lord, being loving, joyful, full of peace, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle & self-controlled.
Shouldn’t we encourage one another and our children to strive for THIS kind of beauty? This kind doesn’t wrinkle. It doesn’t start sagging. It doesn’t fade. In fact, it gets even better with age.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take care of yourself. It’s important to eat healthy (but not obsessively), exercise regularly (to maintain or achieve good health, but again, NOT OBSESSIVELY). But we want our beauty to glorify our Maker, not give credit to our make-up. What I am saying is that instead of focusing SO MUCH on what people see with their eyes, let’s focus on that which is unseen… beautifying our hearts. Let’s teach our daughters and sons that THIS is the beauty that really matters.
It starts with you. It starts with me. Ladies (and gents), we can impact generations if we stop buying into the lies of this world and start investing in the truth of God’s WORD.
“You bring me so much joy!”
“Thank you so much for being patient. I love you!”
“I love how kind you are to your sister.”
“That was so nice of you to share with that boy. You are so generous!”
WORDS HAVE POWER.
Let’s use them to build up a new generation of men and women who value more than what the eye can see.
Share with me ONE THING you’ll do to work on beautifying your heart. First up for me? Taking time each day to spend quality time with my kids, letting them know they’re worth it.