I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings lately, and one striking illustration has leapt off the pages again and again: whenever the enemy inflicts a wound, a deep sting is embedded that stays and debilitates even after the flesh has healed around it.
What an evocative picture of the power of words! Charlotte told her student-teachers, “Always remember that persons matter more than things. Don’t say anything that will leave a sting” (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 62).
I’m sure our mommy-hearts cringe at the thought of one of our children being stung by a wasp. Yet thoughtless words can be just as painful and can take deep root to injure and hinder for many a season. Talk to a sampling of adults and you will probably find that most of them can still remember some stinging words that took aim and plunged deep into their hearts years ago.
As I was thinking about this truth and pondering Charlotte’s words, I recalled with a blush a recent time when I spoke stinging words. So I poked around in that memory to try to find out what “set me off.” My desire—as I am sure is yours—is to speak encouraging and kind words. My hope was that maybe in discovering a common thread, I could take steps to identify any similar situations as they appeared and be especially careful with my words.
Here’s what I found: I have a tendency to be careless with my words when I am under emotional stress and when I am in a hurry. It was interesting to relate those two areas back to what Charlotte said about people mattering “more than things.” I found that my stressed emotions and my hurriedness are usually tied to things.
I might be stressed about the budget. I might get worked up over the clutter in the kitchen and guests due in ten minutes. I might feel tension rise because someone didn’t meet my deadline or someone lost the library book that is due today. You get the idea. Money and dirty dishes, calendar dates and library books are things. Things are not alive and not eternal. People are.
We must remember that. Always. Even when we’re being squeezed by the pressures of life. True, we can’t always see when that squeeze is coming; but if we find that we are living in a constant state of high emotions and hurriedness, we would do well to find ways to add more margin to our days.
Allow more time to get places. Commit to fewer places to be. Take small steps toward establishing a new habit to conquer the clutter. Back off on the activities and regroup with a focus on the persons. For if we can remember to stop and distinguish between the things and the persons, we will be more careful not to say anything that will leave a sting.