We’ve all heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” and we all know that pithy saying to be crap.
At our student retreat this weekend, we looked at Toxic Words for one of our sessions. We watched a video by Craig Groeschel who distinguished between words as truth or trash. Some words spoken to us, at us, and about us are truth. But many words spoken to us, at us, and about us are trash. They are toxic. They hurt us in the moment, and they often continue to harm us for days, weeks, years, or even the rest of our lives.
I asked students to write down some of the toxic words that have been said to them. I encouraged them to lay them down on the altar. They did.
And yesterday I read them. I read them not to invade privacy, but to be informed of who I’m trying to pastor, to teach, and to lead.
After more than a decade in student ministry, it takes a lot to surprise me. I wasn’t particularly surprised by the words, but reading them was overwhelming. Seventy-seven people were with me on that retreat. And reading through their enormous pile of toxic words left me still, silent, and heartbroken.
A teenager should never hear, “You are the worst son ever.”
A teenager should never hear, “You are a detriment to our family.”
A teenager should never hear, “I hate to see you every morning.”
A teenager should never hear, “You shouldn’t have been born.”
The most common toxic words our students wrote were, “stupid,” (23 times) “fat,” (18 times) and “ugly” (20 times).
|Word art from students' responses|
And these are average students from average families in rural and suburban areas of central Virginia.
These words are toxic to our students. They are at a life stage where they are forming their identities, and some of them are forming their identities around these words. If you have influence in a teenager’s life, then please realize that the words you speak wield a lot of power. They can become a teenager’s identity, and they can inform their future.