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  • Writer's pictureGCI Auckland

When Words Hurt

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." We’ve all heard this adage, often repeated in an attempt to fortify ourselves against verbal abuse. However, the reality is far different. Words can hurt, and they can inflict wounds that are deeper and longer-lasting than any physical injury. Harsh words can devastate and leave lasting emotional scars. Many of us have experienced the sting of cruel words, and it’s not uncommon to be told to brush it off or suppress our feelings to avoid conflict. Yet, ignoring the pain caused by words doesn’t make it go away; it festers and grows, often leading to more significant emotional distress.

The New Testament provides a poignant example of how to navigate the pain of hurtful words through the life of Jesus Christ. At the beginning of his ministry, even Jesus faced skepticism and harsh criticism from those closest to him. In Mark 3, starting in verse 20, we read about the various forms of verbal abuse Jesus endured: "Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind.' And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, 'He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.'" In this passage, Jesus is labeled as “out of his mind” by his own family and accused of being possessed by the prince of demons by learned religious leaders. These accusations were not just hurtful; they were direct attacks on his character and his mission.

What stands out is not just the verbal assaults themselves, but how Jesus responded to them. Instead of acting out in anger, becoming passive-aggressive, or succumbing to self-destructive behaviors, Jesus remained composed and steadfast in his purpose. His response teaches us several valuable lessons. First, Jesus shows us the importance of understanding the source of the hurtful words. Recognizing that his family and the teachers of the law were acting out of misunderstanding and fear allowed him to remain compassionate. Second, he demonstrates the power of staying true to one's mission and values in the face of criticism. By not letting the words deter him, he continued to carry out his work with dignity and grace.

While Mark 3:20-35 may not offer a step-by-step guide on handling verbal harm, it does provide profound wisdom. When faced with hurtful words, we can remember Jesus’ example: recognize the source of the pain, stay true to ourselves, and respond with grace and compassion. In doing so, we not only protect our own emotional well-being but also set a powerful example for others to follow.

We continue to read in Mark 3: So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (The full text is found in Mark 3:20-35 - the NIV text has been used here)

Jesus always responded perfectly in his interactions, but the pain he endured is often overlooked. Despite having all our emotions, he never displayed passive aggression, uncontrolled anger, or self-destructive behaviour. However, hurtful words can cause emotional wounds as words have the power to hurt, devastate, and destroy.

Bringing the pain caused by hurtful words to God can be comforting since Jesus understands our suffering. He was one of us. He went through pain, suffering and betrayal. We belong to a God who empathizes with us and does not ignore our struggles. Seeking help from a counselor can also be a great help in healing from the impact of hurtful words.

A young woman, sad or worried, speaking to a counsellor who is writing notes
Counselling can help to deal with the impact of harmful words. Photo from AdobeStock

In this passage from Mark, Jesus teaches us not to let hurtful words define us. He responded by inviting his critics closer, teaching them, and aiming for their redemption. Jesus did not allow hurtful words to change his identity or purpose, setting an example for us to follow.

Jesus focused on God's provision rather than dwelling on lack when faced with harmful words. He celebrated his blessings and the relationships God provided, showing us a better way to live.

In times of hurt, Jesus heals, comforts, and restores. By turning to him, we can find healing for the wounds of the heart, acknowledging him as the ultimate source of healing.

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