Many of us may remember the adage from our childhood, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” What we may have learned along the way is that words may, in fact, hurt us. Words have the ability to tear us down. They have the power to strip us of our dignity. Words may unravel the threads of community leaving one feeling sad and alone.
Building Community Through the Shared Word
Henri Nouwen in his book, “Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith,” reflected upon how the words we choose to say to others and ourselves may also lift rather than break people. In fact, the words we say may create community. “When we say, ‘Let me tell you what we saw. Come and listen to what we did. Sit down and let me tell you what happened to us. Wait until you hear whom we met,’ we call people together.” When someone is able to share their story and have another be fully present to hear their words, amazing things begin to happen. Relationships are built. Healing commences. Walls that divide come down. Community is created.
Healing Wounds: A Story of Listening to the Sacred Words of Others
I remember sitting with a group of older adults once. One of the members of the group shared a story personal to her. This story was so personal, I doubt she had shared it with others. Yet, in the midst of this group setting, she felt heard. Maybe for the first time. She shared her story with the group, and we listened. We listened deeply. Her story brought some of us to tears. When she realized that no sticks would be thrown and no stones would be flung, healing began. The group could feel her walls tumbling down. We could see her posture change. It was evident by her tone and how animated she was in the sharing of her story that she felt safe. She trusted us to hold her words, her story, as sacred. I witnessed the building of community that day. And, it certainly was a holy moment.
Being Intentional with Our Words
For the last three years, the place where I am called to serve in ministry has been intentionally examining the words we use. I serve a life plan community, with residents living in long-term and memory care suites, in short-term rehabilitation and also in assisted and independent living apartments. It is home to our residents. Because it is a home, we want the words spoken to reflect a home rather an institution. For example, residents live in neighborhoods rather than in units. Each home is called a community rather than a facility. And, some residents may need to live in a secured neighborhood rather than a locked unit. The words we use matter. They paint a picture. We want the picture to reflect abundant life. In being intentional, the word of the week is posted for staff weekly and is discussed at the beginning of worship weekly with residents.
For Christians, we are currently in the midst of our Lenten journey. It is a time of reflection. It is a time to examine our actions. I believe it is also a time to reflect upon our words. How are the words we are using in our places of worship and ministry settings lifting people up? How might our words be creating division? How might our words build community? And, how might our words be like sticks and stones?
Friends, may our words this week and always reflect the light of the Christ within us. May our words be a shelter to those weathering a storm. May our words bring comfort as the world faces the effects of the coronavirus in our communities. And, may our words be light where darkness resides. Blessings as you journey!