Sticks and Stones Do Hurt

  • Reading time:17 mins read

I’m sure you’ve heard of “Sticks and Stones” may break my bones but words shall never hurt me. The children’s rhyme has been used as a defense against name-calling and verbal bullying, which has been intended to increase resiliency, avoid physical retaliation and to remain calm and continue on with good-living. Gosh! It’s been around for years and I’ve heard it used even growing up in my own household.

The children’s rhyme “Sticks and Stones” has been used as the title for many albums and songs, and the rhyme’s lyrics have also appeared in many songs, either in its usual form or with altered lyrics.

A version was featured in the Who‘s 1981 song, “The Quiet One“, where the artist changes a few words from another source he picked up and sang those words twice where he changed “your” from the first set to “my” in the second set. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never down you.”

I believe over the years the each song has been trying to portray a different message. However, each song appeared to disregard the use of hurtful words and how people feel when words have been used offensively toward them. One song appeared to betray what one does to you, shouldn’t be taken personal and you should be able to look over the fact that hurtful words come from everyone.

Whoa! Words are personal and you shouldn’t look over the fact that sticks and stones thrown at you may not hurt.

Oh yea! They do.

Another version was featured in the Divine Comedy‘s 2004 song “Sticks and Stones” from the album Absent Friends song by Neil Hannon. Sticks and stones may break my body but words can tear me apart.

I would say Divine Comedy by Neil Hannon got it right. “Words can tear me apart.” 

Dog-gone-it! Thank you Neil… Words hurt! They tear you down in so many ways.

Do you remember a friend or anyone for that matter saying harsh words to you on the playground and you walked away so upset about the those words spoken to you and you were in deep thought about them all day because those words just hurt so much? Or, do you remember being in a conversation with someone and the conversation was going too well then all of a sudden the conversation went South somehow because you nor the other person would slow down long enough to really listen to each other’s point of view. So the yelling and screaming started along with the disrespect as you both talked over each other… and don’t forget the unnecessary name calling that was simply uncalled for.

And after the dust settled? You asked yourself… How did we get here? But above all, you’re hurt by the names and the accusations that were been made during the conversation. In many cases, we just can’t live those names down because words matter. And they remain with us a lifetime. I strongly believe that words carry a spirit. They just down right hurt. Our words can build up or tear down. They can impart wisdom or bring shame. They can deliver encouragement or deflate the spirit. Words can be a weapon or a healing balm. A welcome sound or a dreaded racket. 

Words that Hurt–Words that Heal

I remember my playground experience with my friend Beth from elementary school. We did everything together. From cleaning our teacher’s chalkboard to passing out papers and pencils to our classmates to staying after school to make sure she was prepared for the next day. We loved being helpers in our classroom. One day Beth and I disagreed about our classroom chores. Our teacher told me to clean the paint brushes and the trays out that contained the paint so they can be put away. But, Beth took the initiative and started picking up the paint brushes and trays and taking them to the sink. What?!?! That was my chore. I was so upset because our teacher told me to wash everything and put it away. Beth was responsible for hanging up the pictures we painted and throwing away the newspaper we used for the excessive paint we spilled that didn’t go on our pictures.

Beth was not happy with the teacher’s decision but went along with it as she was directed. So the room was quite quiet and we didn’t have our usual conversation. Of course, I didn’t think anything of it. But I knew she was not okay with the teachers decision. It’s noteworthy to mentioned out of all the years Beth and I have been friends. We never used a cross word with each other.

During lunch, Beth didn’t sit with me. She sat among other classmates so I took my lunch tray to the opposite end and sat with everyone else. I just wanted to be close to my friend. At the lunch table, we laughed and giggled about the most funniest things until we were called to line up and go outside for recess. Beth put herself in the middle of the line and of course I tried to squeeze in between my other classmates and Beth looked at me with such an ugly blank stare and said… “Don’t stand by me. I’m not your friend anymore.” I was shocked but I was determined to find out what was going on with her on the playground. [I just wasn’t thinking about the classroom painting situation]. So, I walked up to her a couple of different times on the playground to have a conversation with her. But she would run off to play on the swings or to get on the merry-go-round. She totally ignored me. 

I was blown away by her actions because that wasn’t her natural way of acting with me.

Right before we were lining up to go back inside, I asked her if she wanted to be on multiplication teams because our teacher was going to drill us over our multiplication facts. We were a great team together.

For you educators reading this, I hope you are still playing multiplication games and doing drills so your students can learn their multiplication facts. It will help them so much with all their math skills. Honestly, This is how I became a math whiz. It’s my favorite subject by the way too.

Nonetheless, Beth said… “I don’t want to be on your stupid team. You are too dumb.” I was blown away by her comment because we had never exchanged words so hurtful to each other. I was so hurt by her words. I thought about it all day and went home to share the incident with my mother. I was crushed, y’all. And many moons later and being much older. You see, I still remember those words she spoke to me so harshly. 

That comment has remained with me and I have taken every avenue possible to ensure that I am smart and well educated. I desire for people to know that I exist in a room. In my mind, I want to be more than a friend or dumb girl asking people to join my team. Whatever team I ask people to join. I wanted people to knowledge that my team will bring value and a wealth of knowledge.

As an educator, I struggled with my students demeaning each dumb and calling other names. At the beginning of each school year, one of my classroom rules was “no agitating, provoking or calling names.” I spent a few hours or possibly an entire day going through what that looked like in hopes it would spill over into other teachers’ classrooms. Most of my colleagues’ classroom rules were to the point… “Be Respectful!” Of course, that speaks volumes as well. But it was important for me to be more specific about what I would not tolerate. And, if my students faltered, it was much deeper than a warning. It was usually a call home, parent conference, or chores after school to ensure that I sent a message about belittling others. Words hurt… They leave a lasting impression for a lifetime. 

And today, Beth’s words have left a lasting impression on me. Today, I’m an avid reader and a researcher of information. It’s difficult for people to explain things to me. I like to go and learn it myself. I may have to watch 20 hours worth of YOUTUBE videos to get clarity… but I’ve learned it myself. And, yes, I know it’s much easier for someone to teach you something so you won’t spend hours mulling through the information you could learn in an hour or less. 

But… Beth’s words hurt. 

On the other hand, Beth’s words have taught me how to walk in grace with other people. I dare not say that I’ve been perfect with my words. Whew! I haven’t. I’m sure I’ve left a lasting impression on some as well. When God gives us grace he is granting a person favor, which usually means that we have “found favor” in God’s eyes. In my mind, it means that that person being spoken about pleased God immensely. 

Over and over, Scripture affirms that grace is something freely given. There is no cost on our part. But there was a cost to Christ. When Scripture describes God as gracious, several times the words “compassionate” and “slow to anger” are also used. The psalmist sums up God’s character with this amazing description: “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abound in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15). 

God is patient. He doesn’t fly off the handle in anger and use disappointing heart wrenching words toward us no matter how much we have disappointed Him. His love never runs out. His faithfulness never takes a vacation day. 

Father, thank you for loving unconditionally! Don’t you agree?

And God’s Son knew how to impart grace when he spoke while here on earth: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” (Luke 4:22). There are many other verses that affirm that our speech should be gracious. When we choose to grant favor with our words or to lavish love on some through our speech, we mirror Christ and his free gift of grace. Let your conversation be always full of grace,” writes the apostle Paul (Colossians 4:6). One wise author of Proverbs says, “Gracious words are put in [God’s] sight” (15:26), and Gracious words promote instruction (16:21). 

What is the result of intentionally speaking graciously to our family, friends, and other necessary people? Of loving them without stopping? Of containing our anger when we speak and dealing with them in a patient and faithful way? When we choose to lace our words with grace, healing happens: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). 

Let me put a pushpin right here. I hope you have noticed something about me. I literally hate to argue. I really try to steer clear of that. Because nothing is accomplished when that is done. And, most people are arguing to WIN and not to bring a resolve to the issue of discussion. If the issue is remembered after hours and days of yelling, screaming, calling names, etc. nothing was accomplished. The sum of the manner is two people made a fool of themselves and the matter at hand wins. 

If this is you… don’t allow the matter to win. You deserve answers and staying in rhythm with yourself.

Yes, choosing grace will sometimes cost us. Spats and squabbles are oh-so-easy to fall into. We will have to resist the urge to lash out in anger. We might even have to bite down on our tongues. 

I see your blank stare at me.

But sometimes it’s better to keep your sharp words so our family members, friends and co-workers won’t go away with wounded hearts. We might have to choose to do this–even though it will be extremely difficult–we have to model the picture of Christ’s love toward us. Then, we’ll notice the fighting one-another is abandoned. The tempers cool off faster because Proverbs 15:1 says, A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. Stress simmers down. Our gracious words are given the opportunity to wash the person’s ears and heart with love and compassion. 

Next time you encounter a Beth, whether it’s a family member, friend, significant other [that can be our biggest challenge], or foe behavior threatens to knock the nice right out of you. Pause. Recalculate. Settle your heart to create peace for the words that are downloading from your brain to your tongue to arrive at grace. Then, our mouths can utter pleasant words rather than those that are caustic, cutting, and unkind. 

Please take the advice that I have to give myself: I don’t want to say something permanently painful because I am temporarily ticked-off at someone because I don’t see and hear it their way. 

So will you join me today in choosing to stop stirring up strife when it comes to someone in your life who is oil while you are so trying to be water. Yes, even if that person is your spouse? Or your child? Or your friend, Or your in-law? Or the cowork in the cubicle next to you and you know they’re messy? Or the grumpy neighbor across the street who never speaks to you when you speak to them?

I’m assured that God orchestrates our relationships. Every relationship we’ve entered into good or bad. It didn’t surprise God. Everyone you encounter throughout the course of the day are ‘on purpose’ people. God plopped them into your life for a reason. 

Whew! That’s the hard part trying to figure it out. 

These people–whether easy-to-love or they’re the scratchy sandpaper brash talking kind is molding, reshaping, and stretching us into the creation God has intended for us to be.

In conclusion, disclaimer: 

Will you be perfect? 

Nope. Never. (Not until heaven, but keep being made in God’s image)

Just be assured people are watching how you act in ways that honor God and how we line up with God’s word. Others are watching, sizing up how you behave. What will they see? Stirred-up strife– or lovingly covered offenses that contains “A Hoarding Heart” full of Beths.

You choose. (Pssst… The correct answer is ‘g.’ Grace). 

I stand and walk out of the room after writing this blog with my hands in my pockets asking God to cleanse my heart of the filth and harshness I’ve carried against others for years.