From a very young age, my Mother had a saying she would frequently employ as an admonishment whenever I would become angry, frustrated, or upset with someone else. As with most of the advice she instilled in me, it came in very useful throughout the years and still does to this day.
Perhaps I was having a difficult time at school (or in later years, at work) with a peer that was harassing me, or I was upset with the way someone was treating someone else, or I encountered someone who I didn’t quite understand or agree with. I would usually get into one of these angry modes after a confrontation with said type of individual that had left me frustrated and venting when I arrived home. I would be having delusions of grandeur about how I planned to stand up to this person and return their volley of insults with an equally powerful return assault, feeling defensive and under the false and foolish impression at the time in my hurt and anger that it was better not get mad or get even, but to engage in both. I would talk about the snappy comebacks I would unleash with a sense of smug satisfaction, and what a sense of strength that would make me feel. My Mom would listen, and there was usually a pause when I would get to the part where I would talk about how I would put whoever was tormenting me at the time in their place and what I would say.
To which she responded with, “If you can’t say something nice, then sometimes it’s better not to say anything at all.”
At the time I couldn’t quite comprehend why she was telling me it was not okay for me to get back in someone’s face if they were getting in mine – after all, they were doing it to me, and they started it, so why not? (Keep in mind that the magnitude of the teaching of the Golden Rule and the understanding that we are urged to treat others as we would want to be treated and not how they treat us had not fully been absorbed or embraced by me at the time). Was she telling me that I was just to sit there and take it and repeat the inner mantra to myself about “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” when I knew for a fact that sometimes words can wound even more deeply, especially when thrown with force and malicious intent?
No. I fully understand now what she meant. She wasn’t advising me to remain silent and accept abuse, nor was she suggesting that my feeling angry at being mistreated was unacceptable; she was merely illustrating what I know now through experience to be true: to return anger and hostility and persecution-all of which are rooted in fear to begin with – with more of the same-solves nothing and leads to no positive resolution. It merely serves to perpetuate the problem and is akin to throwing gasoline on the fire rather than attempting to extinguish it. All it would have accomplished had I returned anger and insults with another escalating salvo of the same would be more hurtful words, more potential for harm, and no useful potential for healing and resolution.
The wisdom which my Mom graciously imparted (and which she occasionally reminds me to follow to this day) has repeatedly saved me a substantial portion of regret, stress and potential heartache on a multitude of occasions since then, and it has stuck with me through the years. Of course, as is the case with many things, along this learning journey we call life, I did not heed that advice at all times, and ended up paying the consequences as a result. I discovered the difficult way that getting back in someone’s face and escalating the conflict and engaging in the fight was an exercise in futility and a waste of time that would have been better invested in something constructive.
I eventually did arrive at the realization that it is entirely possible to determine a constructive fashion to express and validate myself when faced with persecution and/or being on the business end of someone’s personal method of dealing with a bad day. But I still find it challenging at times and struggle with what my knee jerk, defensive reaction initially prompts me to say in response to a confrontation; occasionally to the point where I find myself avoiding confrontations which it would be better that I face. Not a healthy thing to do, but I’m working on that still.
Yet I still struggle with this on occasion. Not too long ago at work, there was an unpleasant incident – one that was the culmination of a series of several leading up to it – that put my resolve to leave unsaid anything which was not very nice to the test.
I will graciously spare the grim tale of office politics and drama that led to said encounter. Let’s just say it was a staff meeting that took a turn for the ugly as my boss chose to use it as an open forum to criticize my refusal to approve poor quality work for release to a client, work which had been done in volume in the interest of profits. During the meeting, after I was given the floor after being verbally knocked down to it, I found myself silently seething over what had been stated just moments prior. I was feeling hurt, angry and defensive and my first initial response and reaction would not have been correctly thought through. Right there on the tip of my tongue was a comeback (I cannot at the moment recall the exact comment offhand, but it was something along the lines of, “That very type of obtuse and backwards thinking is exactly why the company is in so much financial ruin to begin with, which explains why were making 25% less”) that would have only served to create an even more negative situation than already existed. That was replaced in my head with, “I have a policy to not say anything unless I can say something nice and constructive and I am at a loss at the present moment for anything that falls under that criteria.” I half considered shutting down my computer and getting up and leaving.
Instead, I elected to take a deep breath, go within and reflect for a moment, and approach the questions which had been posed and that I had been confronted with constructively, regardless of how adamantly I may have disagreed with the sentiments that had been expressed. I calmly stated that I respectfully disagreed with what was being proposed, and attempted to navigate to some sort of common ground as the alternative. I did spend some time in reflection after the fact as to whether I might wish to consider the healthier alternative to take the initiative to seek a less hostile and more positive and productive work environment, as I felt that might be a much better method of dealing with this ongoing conflict. But I was grateful, as I always am to God, Christ and Spirit for the knowledge and illumination to have the sense and forethought to think before I responded, and not wind up in an even more unpleasant situation than the one I had found myself in at the time. It’s a technique I have learned I will share a bit later, and it is a blessing.
Reaching that place, where I feel able and empowered to respond to the harsh words or criticism of others (be that interoffice politics or personal interaction both with those I know and those I have no knowledge of save for a screen name and/or an avatar online) in a constructive way through calling on the Loving God Who is always there for me has been a process that took quite some time and at points a difficult journey, yet an extremely worthwhile, advantageous and enriching one.
Words are a powerful thing; a little as a single word can carry with it tremendous capacity and potential to hurt, or heal. While the old saying I referenced earlier we often hear as children, often provided to us by our parents when we may be distressed at other children making fun of us or calling us names merely because they cannot understand us, the old “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” might be an idealistic self affirmation, the reality is that words can wound deeper and leave more lasting scars over time, repetition, and continually having them hurled as weapons at our vulnerabilities. While I wholeheartedly believe that Eleanor Roosevelt was correct when she stated that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” the constant breaking down of one’s psyche, subconscious, and self esteem by repeated negativity and insults over time can create a debilitating effect.
There is a feature during the services at the Open and Affirming church I belong to where there is a Children’s Sermon as part of the service (where a member of the church presents a spiritual lesson to the children) that I participated in once and that I think is actually equally beneficial to the adults the majority of the time as well, as it generally appeals to the child like faith I feel we truly need to know God. There is one story someone told that has always stuck with me which I feel illustrates the power of words and their potential for being hurtful and destructive better than any I have ever heard. I cannot remember the exact words of how it went, but the basic premise was this:
There once was a little boy who had a bad temper and who was always losing his temper and saying hurtful things to others. One time, after a nasty outburst, his father thought about what to do and rather than punish him, he gave him a bag of nails and instructed him to hammer a nail in the back of the fence every time he lost his temper and felt like lashing out or saying something hurtful to someone. The first day, the boy hammered over 30 nails in the fence, but over time, he found it easier to learn to control his temper and his words than go out and drive nails into the fence.
One day, there came a day when the boy had fully learned to control his temper and did not have to hammer any nails at all. He told his father this, who was pleased and told the boy he could pull out a nail every day he was able to control his temper. The boy gladly did so, but there were so many nails in the fence, it took a very long time. But finally, that day arrived.
On that day, he took his father to the fence, and his father pointed out all of the holes in the fence which remained from all of the nails. The father said to him, “The fence is scarred with holes from your temper. Think of these holes as the hurtful things you have said to others and the words you have spoken in anger, the wounds those words have left in people’s lives. Words really are like weapons: they can leave a wound, and one that does not heal easily. Always remember the fence before you speak words of anger, or words that can hurt.”
It’s such a simple tale, but for some reason it hit home with me. Words can wound and those wounds can remain sore for an extensive period of time. They can leave scars that can eventually be healed, but that healing can take a lot of time. I always consider this story any time I am tempted to lose my temper over something (usually trivial and insignificant that has no impact on the grand scheme of things, as things that make us lose our temper can so often generally be.)
But it does an excellent job of illustrating the impact that words can have. It can happen to the vulnerable and those who might consider themselves immune to mere words. If an individual is not appropriately equipped to deal with a constant barrage of repeated negative messages, regardless of how thick skinned they elect to believe that they may be, those messages can take root in the subconscious and lead to internalization, low self esteem, and it the worst cases, self destructive behaviors rooted in the false beliefs created by external programming of negative messages.
If these seeds of negativity are cast at someone, land in a vulnerable place and are allowed to take root without enough alternative messages of affirmation and self worth, it can result in one beginning to believe things merely for the reason that’s all that they have ever been told. And if said individuals cannot ascertain the methods to equip and enable themselves to break out of the negative and self defeating thought patterns that repeated negative conditioning can create, the healing process can be prolonged extensively, if it can ever begin at all, or be effective.
Many of us who are LGBT and Christian, can identify all too well with the powerful and destructive and erosive nature of having negative ideas, thoughts, and teachings which can be detrimental and threatening to our sense of well being and self esteem over time and repetition. At least, I can from personal experience as a bisexual Christian, and have had many other LGBT Christians who were also exposed to very legalistic forms of Christianity as our spirituality and self identity were being shaped and we were growing up express the same sentiment.
Many of us who grew up in or were involved in legalistic forms of Christianity would potentially carry scars from the words of others twisting ideas about God to their own agenda regardless of our personal sexual orientation or sexuality. Constantly hearing the teaching of original sin, and being consistently exposed to the concept that we are all wretched and sick people in need of saving and having it imprinted upon us the thought that God only offers love with strict conditions and should be feared rather than known as a source of abundant Love is in my opinion a recipe and a perfect storm for low self esteem.
The idea that we are all inherently somehow flawed lest we embrace one specific teaching in a certain way which demands rigid conformity goes right alongside this pattern of thought and belief and compounds matters. (Come to think of it, there seems to be a great deal more focus on negativity and fear than genuine faith, hope and love or the teachings of Jesus about how we should treat one another in general in legalistic Christian mindsets and more on policing the private lives and individuality of all for discrepancies, so the resulting emphasis on negative talk should not to me come as a surprise.)
It becomes even more difficult for the LGBT individual when the idea is introduced or suggested that regardless of what our true feelings are and what our own experiences of Love, God and life are, if they are not squared with a literal interpretation of the Bible (what I refer to as worshipping the Bible rather than God). The accusation of being unnatural or an abomination enters the mix.
Certainly, those of us who have come to know God’s Unconditional Love know that these words, these teachings that may have been instilled in us either when our minds were young, vulnerable or both, were not God’s Words but rather the words of others claiming to speak for God while furthering their own agenda based in their own fears. But for many who may not, these words are still harmful and the source of a great deal of pain and emotional trauma for many that is in desperate need of a mass healing.
Even worse, there are those who use these types of words and teachings to create a hostile environment that can pose a very real physical threat to LGBT individuals. While I would be the last one to ever limit a person’s freedom of speech or right to whatever they choose to believe, I cannot help but think that the level of discriminatory practices, or outright violence towards LGBT individuals or those deemed “different” in any way, can be traced back to what has become known in this day and age as “hate radio” – which is entirely comprised of promoting hateful, negative speech against anyone who does not fit a certain criteria and often goes unchecked and unquestioned by those who are ardent and fervent, blindly devoted fans of it whatever the cost.
Hurtful words and teachings have created vast distances and brokenness between family members. It makes me want to cry when I consider the family members whose church has ingrained in them that their LGBT son, daughter, sibling, grandchild is evil and hell bound and who as a result either grieve and agonize over or completely alienate a loved one as a result. I have lost several relatives who I was distant from at the time of their passing as we no longer could have as close of a relationship based on their belief that I was somehow sick and flawed because their church told them so, and I know countless others alienated from their flesh and blood for the same misguided reasons.
I have received my fair share of hurtful words and judgments from others (and it runs the gamut from conservative and liberal Christians, from other LGBT people, and even from non-religious folks) who cannot accept the idea that I am a bisexual male and one who is in an honest and committed relationship with both a woman and a man, and I know from experience that those words can hurt. They kept me in a silent, suffering closet of self denial, self hatred, and self destructive behavior for years before I was out, and even after I had found God, accepted myself and arrived at a deep sense of peace and joy with who I was Created to be they would sometimes hit me during a vulnerable time and create new wounds, despite my striving to keep the protective symbolic “Armor of God” on at all times. But now whenever I hear the same types of judgment, my greatest concern is for others who were in the dark places that I once was, and wanting them to know that they too can arrive at a place where the words cannot reach or hurt them.
Unfortunately, I have seen the destructive potential of words intended to harm another, or words carelessly cast at another without forethought. Having experienced my own healing from the harm I once allowed the words of others to do to me before I was equipped with the ability to cope with the fact that there will be those who can say things that could be hurtful and how to react when that occurs, and having witnessed the harm that hateful and hurtful words have done to others is reason enough for me to strive to always remain as mindful as possible on the impact our words can have and the critical importance of thinking with my heart – where God always speaks the loudest and clearest to me – before I speak or respond.
Words that can hurt do not always have to be directed at someone in anger, cruelty, thoughtlessness or defensive response. Take for example the careless words of someone not realizing they are in mixed company with LGBT individuals and who go off on either a judgmental tirade or who attempt to rouse the room with laughter by engaging in cruel discriminatory jokes and humor, not realizing that the impact their words could be having on another. When met with this kind of talk among mixed company, many do not respond, they simply walk away, never to return to that group of people.
I can recall numerous times I would be invited to a group of people before I was out as bisexual and I would be minding my own business, and there would be a person in the group who was very vocal about their dislike (for whatever reason and be it rooted in legalistic religious views or not) towards LGBT individuals. On one instance in particular, a person who was among a group I was invited to attend a function with was drunkenly and loudly berating and telling cruel and ignorant jokes regarding bisexuals and homosexuals and I simply walked out and never contacted any of them again, and no one bothered to ask why I had left. Many times I would not return to said group of people without a given reason.
Reflecting back on that, it is a reminder that not remaining mindful of the manner in which we voice our opinions about a given matter can at times lead to unspoken hurt feelings and alienation of someone and we may never know. In some cases this can lead to a missed opportunity or in others, a shattered or damaged friendship. Certainly, if a person suddenly ceases to return calls or show up to an event because there was negative talk going on, someone will go to check on them and inquire as to what caused the distance, but in others, this may not always take place.
When you consider it carefully, there are so many ways that words can have a negative impact and it becomes all the more critical that we select our words carefully. On the converse, there is even greater potential for words to heal. There are so many wonderful alternatives for the use of words and the healing potential they can carry and how to use them in a constructive way to create healing rather than harm, peace instead of brokenness, and to bring hope rather than hurt. And the best news of all is that in my experience, the healing capacity for words is infinitely more powerful than their potential to do any type of permanent damage or lasting harm.
I think back on all of the times in my life I have felt down or frustrated, and how just a simple word from someone has made all of the difference. Despite how trivial or insignificant that may sound, it truly does happen.
There are things I will always remember in regards to healing words: words spoken to me by the first girlfriend I ever had who suggested that I give God another chance, as God just might love and accept me whoever I was, regardless of my sexual orientation or sexuality or however unnatural other people might accuse me of being. The first time someone shared with me the idea that being a Christian is not about following one set of religious dogma, but that if I read and studied the Bible for myself, I might just find that I could be loved by God and follow the spiritual teachings of Christ without being required to change who I am to be loved Unconditionally.
When I was coming out as bisexual and realizing that for me bisexuality means the need for an intimate committed relationship with both a woman and a man, the few people who offered words of support, hope and kindness that there was no conflict between that and my being a Christian, and that there was enough room for everyone, regardless of how different we may be in God’s Eyes. All of these things and many more, words said to me, written and expressed and discovered when I took the leap of faith and elected to ask, seek and knock with an open heart have more meaning to me than anything physical or material could ever begin to.
There are other instances, day to day. Times when someone has approached me to offer criticism on work I have done and prefaced it with the statement that it was constructive criticism and selecting words that expressed the points which needed to be made carefully instead of engaging in destructive criticism. Times when a kind word from another when I was tired or frustrated or having a challenging day compelled to me to step back, revaluate my thinking and turn a negative outlook around into a positive one.
Equally as powerful and far more profound are the times when I have felt compelled to do things to reach out and help others and having them later reach out to me and tell me how my words to them had an impact to them in a time of need, be it someone online or someone I had not crossed paths with in some time stating that I had given them hope and encouragement with something I wrote, something supportive I said on a message board on the rare occasion that I post on them, or a time I was able to reach out and find the words that helped them through a difficult time.
A bisexual friend of mine was seeking to get into the music business as a professional singer (something I was once doing but have semi retired from in the interest of time and an overtaxing work schedule at the present time.) He asked me to assist him, and never having heard him sing, I asked him to send me some samples of what he had done and I would help him put together an ad or some promotional material. He told me all he had was a few mp3’s of him singing with no music, and I asked him to send them to me. He seemed a little down and discouraged that he did not yet have a lot of interest from bands or musicians, but I said I would listen and offer what advice I could.
I was pleasantly amazed to hear pure raw talent and wondered why in the world he was not doing more with it and did not possess more self confidence. I jotted him off a simple e-mail encouraging him to believe in himself and not give up, offered a few positive spiritual affirmations and told him to believe in his dream because I knew he would get there.
About a month later, I get an e-mail back from him with a photo attached and a simple note saying, “Thank you so much, I wanted to show you a photo of my wall.” On his wall was the e-mail of encouragement I sent, printed out. “I read that every day,” he wrote. “Just wanted to say thanks for the support.”
Things such as that mean the world to me, when I know I have been able to offer words of hope as others have offered me hope. Passing on that hope.
Just as with all of the blessings the Creator has enriched our lives with-love, relationships, creative impulses, knowledge, ability, sexuality. laughter-everything- the gift of words, and of the ability to craft them to communicate are equally a gift to be used carefully. I feel that God taught us through Christ that the gift of communication should be employed in a fashion which is not harmful, hurtful, or detrimental to any of God’s Children, whether we may agree with them on a particular issue or not and regardless of what type of day we find ourselves in the midst of, or perceive ourselves to be enduring.
I have been doing a lot of reading in Matthew lately, and as I was reflecting on some verses where I feel Jesus is teaching about the power of words and our call and advisement to use them wisely, a few passages came to mind:
“So for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesized rightly about you when he said, This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines’ Then Jesus called the crowd to Him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles’.” – Matthew 15: 6-11
I feel the context to this passage is particularly important, as Jesus is responding to criticism from the fundamentalists of the time of His disciples not following religious ritual and tradition, and is disputing the idea that religious ritual (in this case adherence to dietary and purity laws – He is essentially declaring all foods clean) is required of us by God.
The other important note here is His assertion of what it really is which would defile. I feel in this instance, he is referring to harsh words, judgmental words, any hurtful words towards another and that engaging in such is missing the mark and not in alignment for the best that God desires for all of us. What types of things which would come out of our mouths which would defile do I feel he is referring to? Hateful words; angry words, prideful words, selfish words and statements, pious statements, hurtful statements that serve no useful purpose.
Note that He is emphasizing as He does in a common thread through His teachings that God is not concerned with whether or not we follow religious ritual, but rather with us acting as loving human beings with respect and care, rather than disrespect for one another as it is ultimately Gods Desire that we live in harmony first and foremost and that Love should always override human created religious Laws. This to me was the core of His Message. Another verse:
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:35-37
Part of the verse referring to a “tree being known by its’ fruit,” the main focus on this one seems to me to be a metaphor of our words being a direct reflection of where it is our hearts and minds are focused; if we are filled with negative emotions such as fear or anger, we will be inclined towards negative, destructive or “evil” words, and in contrast, if we are filled with love and Spirit, we will be inclined towards positive words. And those, in turn, will be directly reflected in our lives; if we consistently engage in negative talk, we will be in a place that can feel like condemnation, whereas if we remain positive and promote positive things, we will feel at peace and promote a peaceful environment. If we focus on the positive, our lives will embody that.
This makes a great deal of sense to me. I have yet to meet the individual who says hurtful words to others who is filled with a genuine sense of love, inner peace and is completely free of any fear and negativity. It becomes a far less difficult task to respond to angry words from another when we remember that those who are lashing out are doing so from a place of fear and their own pain.
I feel what Jesus is saying here is that our words do have impact and should be selected carefully as they not only have impact on those around us but can have an effect on our surroundings and well being simultaneously. If we focus on the positive, rather than whatever negative feelings we could be experiencing, then it will become easier for us to communicate with others effectively in a positive manner and create a peaceful environment for all involved. Conversely, our own negative words can have the opposite effect.
I feel that these and the many other teachings of Jesus refer to the value of using words to heal and help rather than hurt – from the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” and others) to the Great Commandment to honor God by living our neighbor as ourselves. But in drastic contrast, Jesus does on occasion have some harsh words attributed to Him towards others:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness!” – Matthew 23:27-28
Actually, all of Matthew 23 seems to be a tirade against the scribes and Pharisees, and for good reason: they were oppressing others from truly knowing a God of Love, and He came to free them. I don’t imagine Jesus screaming or stating these words in a derisive fashion, but gently with a calm resolution and the most profound sense of strength and confidence imaginable.
Revisiting for a moment my Mother’s advice about “not saying anything unless it’s something nice,” I had mentioned that she did not intend for me to infer to not feel free to calmly stand my ground and speak up when I recognized injustice towards myself or another. What I see Jesus doing in Matthew 23 is precisely that: He is not out to hurt them. He is merely out to point out the hypocrisy they are demonstrating and illustrate that their way is not the only way of thinking about God – that God is about Love and not legality.
Clearly, there is a multitude of both scriptural evidence that can be garnered from the teachings and life of Jesus and His disciples and evidence from life experience (which can often be the best teacher when we fully open our hearts and minds and allow ourselves to fully experience Gods Love and world without fear based imagined limitations hindering our perspective) of the power in words and their potential for being constructive or destructive. Words and the gift of being able to articulate and communicate – and more importantly, the way we elect to utilize them can assist in Creating the peaceful world and life that I feel God intends for us to have, or they can be misused as with any of God’s other gifts and be actualized as a destructive force, leading to brokenness in our relationships with each other and with God.
So with that in mind, how can we best ensure that we are being mindful of our thoughts before we speak and use the “gift of gab” responsibly, and with love and respect for all the rest of God’s Children in mind, and to promote love and healing rather than fear or the potential of creating or perpetuating hurt?
I can only relate some techniques for striving to do so which have been very useful to me in the process, and all of these have been mostly from life experience.
Always watch what you say, you never know who might be listening.
Although we always attempt to surround ourselves with like minded people – something which I feel God facilitates if we open our minds and hearts to the possibility, we will always encounter those who we disagree with on occasion. We will also hold our own individual opinions about issues.
But to me, it always makes the best sense that when we are expressing our feelings about something in a passionate manner – commonly referred to as “venting” in today’s culture-speak – there are positive and negative ways of doing so. If we dislike or misunderstand something, as long as it is not something which is harmful or threatening to us or to another, there is no need to speak badly of it as we might be criticizing something someone around us holds dear.
This kind of goes back to the idea of not saying anything if there is nothing nice to say; while it is perfectly natural to express our opinion, isn’t it better to talk about what it is we like and why rather than focus on something negative about what we dislike?
While we’re on the subject of watching what we say: if there is one thing I have discovered, and learned a difficult way many times-either engaging in or taking part in gossip is not a good idea. No matter what the hearsay is, if there is a concern, I think it is far better to go directly to the source. And as far as being the source of gossip-sometimes things we say which we think no one else will ever hear have an odd way of being attributed to us faster than you can say “what you sow, so shall you reap.” Betrayal of one’s confidence in you seems to me to be one of the most hurtful use of words I can imagine.
Select Words Carefully
If we are upset about something someone has done, or feel as if we are the victims of injustice, there is not a thing wrong with our saying so. However, I feel that there are better ways to go about it than we might initially feel when initially presented with such a situation.
Harsh words seem to have the uncanny ability to bounce right back off of the person we might direct them at in a knee jerk reaction and there is a great case to be made for speaking calmly and gently and not turning up the volume in a situation. Personal attacks are an even less effective response.
Negativity just breeds and creates more negativity, and a shouting match will do nothing but douse the fires of anger with more gasoline. Sometimes it truly is better to step back and elect not to engage, lest it escalate into a war of words where there can be no winner, victor or champion – it will merely result in an exercise in futility with no good resolution. In my experience, engaging in that fight is a vicious circle and a losing proposition for all with the lack of forethought to get involved.
I’m the last one in the world who will ever want to criticize any use of swear words, but while I am speaking of selecting words carefully, I feel that the use of four letter words as insults or curses referring to body parts, sexual organs, sexual acts, and worst of all in my opinion, the idea that God would “condemn” or “damn” anyone actually says a lot about how many may subconsciously feel about sexuality and God in general and could perpetuate negative attitudes about both when repeated over and over. That’s just personal opinion, still, I am just as guilty as anyone else who responds with an initial response against my normal nature. I think that’s okay, as there are far worse ways to express anger – but I try to stay mindful of that as well.
Fight Fire with Love
Difficult to do, sometimes, I realize. I still struggle with it at times but have discovered a solution that can make it possible I will relate in a moment.
I strongly feel that it always benefits us to remember that whenever someone says something hurtful to us – or something that makes us feel hurt – they are usually doing so for one of a few reasons: fear, misunderstanding, or not being mindful of the impact their words may be having on us.
In my opinion, anyone who deliberately says hurtful things to another has been hurt somewhere along the way themselves, or if they are speaking to us from a place of fear, it is they themselves who are more often than not fearful. And God has empowered and gifted all of us with the ability to break that vicious cycle. We can elect to respond to such attacks not with an acceptance of their words, but doing so in a gentle and respectful fashion that very often results in the fire which they might have come after us with being diffused or extinguished.
Will our kind and non-reactionary response to their abusive talk result in them suddenly realizing the error of their hurtful ways? Not often, but I have found that it does make people think differently.
There was an individual once determined to attack me for being bisexual and for having two partners and he became irate at first when I refused to engage in the fight. I simply responded to his accusations of my being a terrible example of a Christian and a disgrace and a threat to LGBT acceptance with, “I disagree, I respect your opinion but my personal life is between myself, my partners and God. I’m not out to change your mind about what you personally feel or believe and Im not interested in a debate on that topic.” Interestingly, we eventually we did get to talking about matters we both agreed on and felt strongly about, and I eventually received an apology. The same individual who had been trolling, attacking and harassing others as well stopped doing so.
The same type of thing has taken place with arguments between myself and legalistic Christians, who are compelled to solicit me to remind me how I evil they consider me to be and how I have to do as they say to be saved from hell. My usual response begins with “Thank you, but I have lived through hell and I know I’m out of it for good now.” That usually is not effective.
Not too long ago, I saw a video of Penn Jilette of Penn & Teller fame online where he relates how one of their fans attempted to give them a Bible and share the Gospel with them. Even though he is a devout atheist, he stated that he appreciated the concern that this random person cared enough to share what they thought was information critical to his well being with him. Although I often disagree with his views, I thought that was an interesting way of looking at it.
It’s similar to what I think when I am confronted with such (most recently a note on the front door warning us of the dangers of hell for not attending the church the flyer was advertising); while I appreciate what I feel to be unfounded and misguided concern, I feel bad for these people that they are entrapped in such a terrifying ideation of God and pray they come to know a God of Love.
If they persist, I simply remember that they are doing so out of a place of fear. I realize that their belief that I am in some way unacceptable to God is not founded in the reality of God I know, and they are only doing what they think is right for another. I feel bad for them if fear has led them to fear that badly for the safety of another, but unless they are abusive, there is no need to feel threatened or manipulated – and even if they are abusive, I always have the power to state, “I appreciate your concern, but my relationship with God is between myself and God. God Bless,” and walk away peacefully.
And if they are abusive to the point of going out of their way to persecute LGBT individuals or anyone else, then I feel it is perfectly acceptable to pray for them to find peace and know the true Loving God, while at the same time calmly stating and letting it be known in as constructive a manner as possible that what they are doing is, in fact, hurtful and harmful. This does not, however, involve pulling out Bibles and playing scripture wars. I feel there is no need for that: all that needs to be said is that their words are not in alignment with what I feel is the greatest call of God to all of us, and that is to treat others with love and kindness. If they are truly speaking to us from a place of sincere and genuine “love” and concern, then they should be content to speak their peace and allow us to exercise our own free will which God Graciously Blesses all of us with.
Worry About Saying the Kindest Word, Not Having the Last Word or Being “Right”
From time to time, we will encounter those who will only respond to our returning destructive, negative talk with calm and positive responses that stand our ground and politely validate ourselves as they are attempting to invalidate us with more destructive talk. No matter how fervently we may strive to seek and obtain some type of common ground, the response may remain negative. Perhaps they are so wrapped up in their own fears that they may not see clearly from the positive seeds we can plant with our words of kindness for some time.
While there are a vast number of those who feel that they have a monopoly on “The Truth,” the reality is that we all have our own set of beliefs about God, about life and everything and one size does not fit all.
When we are confronted with another who is bound by fear and determined to bring us along for the ride, I think we should bless them and instead of engaging, move on gracefully. I honestly feel that we set a better precedent and send a more credible message to those who would persecute us by calmly stating our case with confidence and then letting it go and walking away. By doing the right thing and not insisting on having the last word and being “right,” it sends a message to those who would persecute us that no matter how they may try, no matter how much they may attempt to invalidate us, we refuse to allow it. Not getting in the last word is not in any way “losing” or being defeated, and doing the loving thing and walking away with dignity rather than getting into a fight that can never be won and is a waste of constructive time to me sets the best possible example any of us as LGBT Christians ever could.
The Armor Starts Within
As important as I feel that it is that we select the words we use to communicate with others from a positive, affirming, and loving lexicon and to ask, seek and knock and surround ourselves with as many positive and affirming influences as possible, there is one other very critical area where I feel we should be mindful of and where I have to remind myself to be mindful of words, and that is in our own inner dialogues.
The armor which we can put on which will assist in preventing the potentially hurtful words of others to dig into our subconscious and take root in a way which could have a negative effect on our well being has to begin within us. If we are constantly revisiting, dwelling upon, and repeating the hurtful things others might have said to us or harmed our self esteem with, it becomes impossible to effectively begin the process of healing and move forward with confidence. Continuing to repeat them perpetuates old and negative beliefs we need to be freed of to fill in the holes they created and allow the scars we have from them to completely heal and fade.
The best possible thing I think we can do if we have been hurt by the words of others is acknowledge that they were speaking out of their own fears, misguided intentions, or both, forgive them and wish them well and move on with confidence. Listen to your heart and think with your heart instead of the old negative thoughts and ideas about God, or doubts about who God Created you to be or your own self worth to clutter your mind. Know that whoever you are is who you are supposed to be and you are loved with an Unconditional Love regardless of what anyone might say in an attempt to invalidate that.
Then and only then can you fully put on the metaphorical “Armor of God” spoken of and feel resilient against what others might say, and be able to let the words bounce right off and never have the opportunity to take root in your soul.
Those five tips have worked very well for me personally, even though once in a while I still do find myself confronted with someone who catches me in a vulnerable moment, and I might feel the terrible temptation to respond to them in a less than optimal way not inline with what it is I truly feel and believe. And then, there is one method that thankfully always seems to work for me, and I have seen it work for others as well: I call it “speaking my peace.”
If I am faced with words someone has posed to me which create an urge within me to lash out in response and say something which is better left unsaid, I pause, take a deep breath, and for a moment, I reflect and remember all the wonderful things in my life that God has done for me and all that God is to me.
In a just a short moment, I go within my heart and recognize the reality that God’s Love for me, the Love I learned about through the teachings of Christ, is not dependent upon whether or not I follow someone else’s belief about God or dogma or religious rituals. I think of the deep joy and inner peace I feel when I look at all in my life, and in life itself that affirms there is a Loving God Who cares about and values not only me as I am but everyone else as well.
I think of the peace I feel in knowing that God Created me as I am and it is a blessing and a gift, and the joy I felt when I realized that being myself and living my authentic truth in a way which is respectful of others and utilizes what gifts I was given to help as many as possible was what I should be doing. I recall how relieved and at peace I felt when I understood that there was nothing unnatural about my sexuality and that there is nothing wrong with my being a bisexual man and having a committed and honest relationship with a wonderful woman and a wonderful man, and how freeing it is to know that God does not judge anyone based on their sexuality or sexual orientation so long as we use our gifts responsibly and with respect for others. I recall the peace I felt in knowing that while there is only one God, there are many valid paths and understandings to God, and I can see the core of what Jesus taught about God in all of them.
On top of that, I think of all of the other blessings in life – both the highs and the lows, the ability to love and feel deeply through it all, the beauty in the world, and all of the wonderful things in life, and it brings me to a place of peace.
Then I cannot feel anything but a deep sense of inner peace, connection and oneness with God. Whatever words someone said to me that might have made me feel threatened, or hurt, or persecuted suddenly lose any negative meaning and connotation, and rather than respond defensively, I find I desire nothing but to respond constructively. Even if the person I am responding to might not be able to relate to anything I feel, I want any response I make to them to come from and be tempered by the inner peace I am feeling. My response may not have anything to do with what I specifically thinking about that gets me centered and makes me feel at peace, but it will have a direct influence my response and cause it to be one that comes from a place of calm and love rather than fear and defensiveness.
While the topic I am discussing with them may not always be relevant to my own inner sense of peace, I feel as if I am speaking in a state where I feel deeply connected to that peace and with God, and that perhaps whatever I respond with will carry some of that peace with it. The inner peace I have from the knowledge of the reality of God and of feeling totally accepted and Loved by God puts it all into the correct perspective for me to respond more appropriately whatever the circumstance. I feel as if I am passing the peace I feel on to someone else who could use it in some way, even if on a subconscious level.
It might sound different, perhaps even a bit strange, but it has worked well for me. It can work regardless of whatever it is that brings you inner peace on a personal level; whenever you are tempted to respond to any sort of negative verbal attack with more of the same in return, take a deep breath and reflect on that peace for just a second prior to responding, and the results can truly be pleasantly surprising and occasionally miraculous in my experience.
Words are among the greatest of God’s gifts to all of us, and just as with all of God’s Gifts, they can be used positive or negatively. Just as they can carry the potential to wound, they also possess an even greater power to heal, affirm and bring each of us closer to God on an individual level in some way.
With the thousands upon thousands of words that exist, we can select those which are based in love, and elect to attempt to shatter the cycle of fear and hurt with them when others might attempt to use words to hurt us. All we are required to do is remember that those who persecute or lash out are in the deepest need of peace and God’s Love, find our own peace with God and inner peace and allow that to influence us and tame our tongues from saying something negative, defeating or ineffective before we speak. Then we can respond in a way which promotes true communication and dialogue rather than more conflict, and work towards the kind of world I feel God desires for all of us. So the next time you may find yourself feeling persecuted, or feeling tempted to speak before you think – take a moment. Take a breath, and then go within and think about what brings you the deepest sense of inner peace and joy and makes you feel the closest to God.
And then, with confidence and love, speak your peace.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.