‘\My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. –Proverbs 6:20-23
Isn’t it amazing the power that words have on us? I think we can all remember one or two statements that people have said to us or about us that shake our very core. I know this verse speaks specifically to the things that our mothers and fathers teach us and it definitely convicts me to teach my sons about whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
This verse speaks specifically on imparting wisdom and truth. For instance, there are many things my lovely mother has taught me. When someone doesn’t have any friends, I should be their friend. Stand up for the people who get made fun of and don’t quite fit in. My mom is the most patient, humble, considerate, and loving person I have ever met, so I could go on and on. My father saw my talent on the soccer field and encouraged me even when I lost my starting Varsity position senior year and sat the bench. My dad also never let me forget how smart I am. The biggest fight I ever had with my dad was when I decided to turn away from a college program that included entrance in medical school, to instead pursue early childhood education and Christian ministry. Whenever someone makes me feel like nothing, I hear his words echo in my mind. The positive, life giving words keep your heart beating, they lead you down the right road, they show up in your dreams and they are the basis for every goal you pursue, and as you face the ups and downs of life they are there to bring healthy perspective.
The negative words have the opposite effect. Praise the Lord that my parents are so wonderful that I couldn’t think of a single thing my mom or dad ever said to me that became a binding around my heart, squeezing the life out of me. That is what negative words do, especially if you are extremely sensitive like me. Like a choke collar on a dog, they fasten around your neck so tightly that you have to go wherever you are led. The negative words trip you as you walk and lead you astray with skinned knees and a limp. Still fresh as the day they were spoken, they appear in your dreams and echo in your fully awakened mind.
In 6th grade, I decided to quit band because all the popular kids decided that band was not cool at my school anymore. (Isn’t it funny that I ended up marrying Beavercreek’s best trumpet player ten years later?) Anyway, Mrs. Kiehl told me that I was a quitter and that I would always be a quitter. Since then, I hear her words every time I try to start something. I get discouraged, and give up. A bible study. Training for a marathon. An at-home business. A diet plan. A blog. Last fall, we decided to take William out of karate and his instructor told him in front of the class, “William, if you stop taking karate, that means you are a quitter and you are going to be a quitter your whole life.” My anger raged and it took all the self-control I had to not get in this man’s face and tell him just what I thought about him. I made sure that William, 5 years old at the time, knew that just because he was no longer doing one activity, it did not mean that he was going to quit at everything he ever tried.
Around those same awkward preteen years, I was told twice that I was “not the pretty one” in the family. This manifested itself is different ways. First I tried to just be a tomboy/athlete. Then I tried to make up the difference with short skirts and a lot of makeup. In high school I begged my parents for braces until they spent money they didn’t have so my teeth could be perfectly straight. I even faked sleep apnea and went to the hospital for a sleep study so maybe I could get a new nose that didn’t look like it belonged on a 50 year old man (the doctors and my parents didn’t fall for it J).
“You are too serious.” These are the words my first boyfriend used to break up with me when I was 16. “And you know I like [enter the name of my friend who was blonder, thinner, prettier, and my soccer rival], don’t you?” I was devastated. Years later, even as I write this blog, I think, I bet people think I’m too serious. I have to show them how fun I am. As a young life leader, one of my girls stopped speaking to me because “I always want to talk about serious stuff.” More recently I was told that someone didn’t want to be friends with me anymore because I didn’t bring enough joy into their life. Now when I think about my current friendships, my biggest insecurity is “I bet they don’t enjoy being around me. That’s why they declined that invitation. That’s why that person at church doesn’t say hi to me.” Even yesterday, as I sat at my friend’s bridal shower, I looked at all the friends and family showing her how much they love her, and envied her joyful and sunny personality that brightens up every room she is in. Of course, there are times where serious introspection and the ability to feel compassion and empathy are demanded. Where is the balance? This is part of what I call my “To medicate or not to medicate” debate about the purpose of anti-depressants in the life of a Christian. Look for that blog in the near future.
All these words have at times choked me, led me astray, squeezed the very life out of me and my relationships, and stolen precious time away from me. Although I think I will always struggle with these thoughts, God has placed people in my life that help combat these thoughts. People who are gifted in encouragement. When I was 20, God blessed me with a wonderful man who called me “gorgeous” every time he saw me and often told me how lucky he was to be with me. Even now, after 9 years of marriage, he doesn’t mind the baby weight I still carry, the stretch marks, the scar on my neck, or the new wrinkles that appear every day. He has been there through the nights when my melancholy takes over and no light is visible. Also, I treasure every moment I get to spend time with my girlfriends from high school. They are a constant encouragement to me and by sharing fun memories, I am reminded of the joyful , happy, and fun side of my personality. I also love spending time with my siblings and my parents because they bring out that zany Sternberg side of me that goes to see Snakes on a Plane on opening night at Austin’s Alamo drafthouse (Snakes!!!).
I am constantly encouraged by contemporary Christian music. For every subject and every insecurity, there are songs that have blessed me.
Fingerprints of God by Stephen Curtis Chapman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-edjsA_-trE
Beautiful- MercyMe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vh7-RSPuAA
A More Beautiful You- Jonny Diaz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXSkd8apbWM
Of course, the biggest blessings have come straight from the word of God. The bible is full of encouragement. For every negative word that has been spoken, there are hundreds that contradict it. For every time we are devalued, there are a hundred that show how much we are valued by the creator of the universe. Rather than allowing the words of others direct our life, may His word be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths (Psalm 119:105).
When I feel like I am a quitter, I can look in the bible and learn about perseverance (Hebrew 12:1; Hebrews 10:36; 2 Peter 1:6). Or I learn that I can commit to the Lord whatever I do, and my plans will succeed (Proverbs 16:3). By spending time in prayer, I can discern what God’s will is and what I should even commit myself to before I begin.
When I feel ugly and insecure, I can read 1 Peter 3 and reeducate myself on what the real definition of beauty is. Or I can turn to Psalm 139:13-14 and know that God knit me together exactly how he wanted me to look and his works are wonderful.
When I feel like my conversations, my actions, my facebook status, or even my blog entries should be more lighthearted and filled with more surface-level stuff, I look at stories in the bible where Jesus spent time with people who didn’t always bring him joy. He spent time teaching, caring for people, serving them, and telling them about why he came. Paul gave his life to ministry. It was more important that he teach people how to find joy in the salvation they found in God as opposed to the temporary happiness that the world offers. Why should I be any different? And during those times in life when even joy is difficult to find, I can pray to God and he will restore my joy.
So it’s your turn. Take a few minutes and think of the negative words that have been choking you, tripping you, leading you astray, or stealing time or life away from you. What positive commands, teachings, or words have inspired you to follow the right path and remain with you through the day and night?
And if you dare, think about what things you might have said that echo in someone's head or heart. Doesn't the very idea make you feel sick to your stomach? Like the times I have told my husband that he is a horrible husband because he wasn't able to meet every need of mine. Or when I've slipped and called my child a "bad boy" instead of saying he made a "bad choice." I imagine we can all think of at least one apology we need to make. And are there any positive words you have been waiting to say to someone? Someone might just need that encouragement today, so pick up the phone or stop by and tell them how wonderful you think they are or how much they mean to you. Wouldn't it be great if you could be the voice God choses to speak life into someone?