Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.
This children’s nursery rhyme first appeared in a publication printed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church over 150 years ago, and the falsity of the second line astounds me. We sing this rhyme around the schoolyard as little children, warding off bullies and encouraging positive reinforcement. We are taught to shake off the negative comments and degrading words spoken by others, and tell ourselves that what others say, only if it is bad, doesn’t matter.
Words will never harm me. Even repeating that line in my head brings to life the image of an unruly fifth grader circling around a tiny second grader, poking his shoulder and giving him the up-down look of intimidation.
When I was in high school, I took Pre-AP and AP English and History classes. Though I started off freshman year attentive and respectful in class, my teenage attitude and athlete arrogance began to rage its ugly head beginning junior year. I would sleep in class, draw pictures on my notes, and scratch up the desks with all sorts of designs. Even though it appeared I didn’t really care about school, I still listened to the teachers and paid attention to how they acted in front of the class.
They say junior year of high school is the hardest. On top of the intense load the teachers intentionally schemed to give you, you’re starting to look at colleges (who knows even where to start), trying to get involved in as many organizations as possible so that you look good on transcripts, taking the SAT and ACT (once…twice…three times). Applications. Scholarships. Housing. Financial Aid. What do you want to do for the rest of your life? Who do you want to be? Don’t you have it figured out yet?!
I distinctly remember my AP English class and looking around at my fellow classmates. For the most part, they were all in the top 25 out of 850 in our junior class, were involved in honors programs, and perceived me as less-than. Even though I was ranked in the top 150, I never felt smart enough around these people. Then one specific day, my teacher was handing back our tests we had recently taken on some American authors. As my teacher gave me my test, she bent forward, looked me in the eyes, and said to me, “You might want to think about getting out of this class. You’re not smart enough for AP English, and you should never major in English in college. Actually, I’m not even sure if you’ll make it in college.”
Words will never harm me. What lies! Words have done more damage to me than tearing my ACL or dislocating my shoulder or having a handful of concussions. Since my teacher didn’t believe in me, why should I believe in myself? I started to accept that I really wasn’t smart enough, which then began to overflow into the rest of my thoughts. You can probably fill in the blanks accordingly to what people have said isn’t good enough.
In contrast to what my teacher said to me seven years ago, Naomi Zacharias, one of my favorite writers and author of The Scent of Water wrote:
But there is something in the human spirit—the desire to matter, to be seen,
to have someone believe in us—that resonates in each one of us.
When we see it clearly, when we feel it deeply, suddenly we’re all the same.
We’re all on the same side of the window.
The Word of God holds the most powerful and influential words that can ever pierce a human being’s soul. It has the influence to build and to break, to sanctify and to rectify. The Bible says to seek God’s approval and not the approval of men, to work as if unto the Lord and not unto men, to follow in the path of God and not the path of men. I strongly believe in these truths and stand by them to the very end. But I also believe that God speaks through His people to encourage others to do the things they don’t think they can do, to say things that they don’t think they can say, and to live a life that otherwise they wouldn’t dare to live.
So I say this today as a woman who has been told she isn’t good enough, smart enough, qualified or wise enough: I am for you and I believe in you. Whatever your dreams and desires are, do them. Wherever you feel God wants you to be, go there. Because not only am I for you and do I believe in you, but God does infinitely more. We all need somebody to believe in us because it is when people join together in the strivings of life that life actually happens.
For there is hope for a tree, when it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and its shoots will not fail. Though its roots grow old in the ground and its stump dies in the dry soil, at the scent of water it will flourish and put forth sprigs like a plant. –Job 14:7-9