Sticks and stones

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

This children’s rhyme has been around a long time. How true it is depends largely on the individual. It depends on how strong you are, how resilient in the face of taunts, ridicule and discouragement, how grounded you are in the truth of this:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

It takes a strong person to let crass, crude or careless comments roll off her back. Even when the speaker is “merely” careless – and perhaps would take back that unintentionally hurtful comment as soon as it hit the airwaves, if she could – words can and do hurt. We must take care with our own words and the words spoken to us by others. We can’t control what others say or think about us; we can only control our own words and our reactions to others’. And we can control what we say and think about ourselves.

The only way I can do it is to be grounded daily in the truth of Jesus.

I’m not always good at it. It’s easy to get sidetracked in the busyness of life, forget His words – which give life (John 6:68) – and let the meanness of the world sneak up behind me, spin me around and smack my fragile ego in the face.

What’s worse than letting others talk smack about me is when I do it to myself.

In controlling our words, it is not just about what we say to others. I would submit that we speak much more devastating words to ourselves, in the privacy of our own minds, than we ever would dare utter to another person.

I won’t give you my personal hit list – I’ll let you use your imagination, because you probably have a  list of your own. But there are words and phrases we women have in common, particularly when we’re focusing on our bodies and losing weight (and, let’s be honest, when are we not focusing on our bodies?). Some of them we say in the presence of others, and some we say to ourselves (either silently or aloud).

We were bad because we fell off the wagon. We cheated and don’t deserve good things. This evil food must be avoided. We have fat thighs, stomachs, hips. We will never succeed. We always mess up! We’re stupid for even thinking we could do this. (OK, so some of these are on my personal list.)

We even have special phrases for (supposedly) getting ourselves to abstain from a particularly delicious yet fattening food.

“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”

“Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” (Whoever came up with that one must hate dark chocolate, and garlic bread, and key lime pie …)

“No pain, no gain.” (Usually used in reference to exercise – and it’s literally true, to a point. But it has been used in dieting, too, although the hoped-for “gain” is actually a loss.)

At some point in a person’s journey to wholeness, the words and phrases made up by desperate dieters start sounding hollow. I realize that a pithy phrase can capture the spirit of the moment and create a new way of looking at things. Some of them have even helped me, and will help me in the future. (I’m partial to Garfield the cat’s line, “Diet is Die with a T.”) But relying on man’s wisdom (and my own off-kilter way of looking at things) is what got me to where I am: a lumpy, out-of-shape mess who has three sizes of clothing in her closet. By the grace of God, I haven’t resorted to some of the crazy things others have tried: diet pills, laxatives, colonics (if you don’t know, don’t ask), starvation, intentional vomiting. But I have said lots of crazy, unkind, untrue things to myself.

Bottom line: Grounding ourselves in the truth of Jesus and letting Him be our strength is the only way to wholeness.

Over the years I have come to cherish these words of the apostle Paul:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV).

Paul had more than his share of hardships, persecutions and insults. In these verses, he isn’t telling us to go looking for insults, but if we know Whose we are, we can take anything the world hurls at us.

Just don’t let yourself be the one doing the hurling.

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