Do not give equal weight to the voices in your life.
(Or in your head, for that matter!)
Some of us may be quite fortunately surrounded by friends and family who love us and demonstrate that love by speaking words of kindness to us. However, it would be ignorant to think that all are so fortunate. Regardless, even those of us who feel adequately loved by others are partially captive to the double-edged sword that is the tongue. One of my favorite and most convicting scriptures is, "the words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Proverbs 12:18). At times, I have felt my heart sliced and diced by this weapon. Here are some of its mightiest moves:
You need ___________.
You're the type of person who _______.
You struggle with ____________.
You should really work on __________.
You always/never do __________.
You're not very good at __________.
Previously, as people's opinions of me exited their lips and entered my ears, I rarely if ever questioned their validity before allowing them to seep deep into my heart. If they thought _____ about me, then there must be truth to it, right? Well, I'm not so sure.
Here's what I actually believe to be the truth now: people speak words over other people, covering others in their own perceptions not in the truths of who those others actually are. And, yes, even well-meaning people (myself included) do this. In fact, I am well-known for speaking these same types of words over myself...
That was a bad decision.
You're a rotten friend.
You're a terrible mom.
You're a horrible wife.
Social media has also added a unique dimension to this weaponry of words. Mediums like good ole' Facebook (I know, Facebook is dumb...) have empowered people to type words they might not feel so empowered to speak aloud and even provides crafty options like "edit" and "delete" if we reconsider our verbal tactics. However, clicking "delete" doesn't erase the words you have written from the recipient's heart - it merely destroys the physical evidence.
This complicates our interactions with one another. When using this form of communication, we are more likely to use our words as weapons and forget about the person on the receiving end of our attacks. We are more likely to forget that the people reading our words have lives of their own, experiences of their own, pasts of their own. We forget about stepping into their shoes - we forget about empathy.
In fact, as I was working on writing this very blog post this week, I had an experience that really took some shots at me. Isn't it so neat how God allows us to be tested in the very areas which He is teaching us? Anyway, this week an acquaintance of mine (and Facebook "friend") commented on something I had written questioning (by questioning, I mean saying that it made my "heart hurt") a comparison of Donald Trump to Nehemiah from the Bible with these words:
"Maybe you need to examine your heart, Crystal."
Ouch. Those words hurt as I read them. My initial physiological response was a sinking feeling in my stomach, the urge to throw up, and heaviness in my chest. The emotional response that followed included feelings of isolation, worthlessness, and fear. Maybe I shouldn't believe what I believe... Maybe I shouldn't tell people what I believe... Maybe I'm not really saved... Everyone hates me...
Ridiculous thoughts, right? Unfortunately, this was not the only comment this individual made. There were three more, until Commenter chose to delete the statement above as well as the two following it before settling on the "final draft" of a response to my FB post about my heart hurting. My heart hurting. You see, instead of asking me why this particular comparison of Trump to Nehemiah hurt my heart, inquiring about my perspective or understanding of the comparison, clarifying something about which this person believed to have insight, providing me with information about what was perceived to be the truth, or even just ignoring my what I wrote; Commenter immediately questioned the condition of my heart. The truth is, this person does not know anything about my heart. Save for a handful of interactions in person and some "likes" here and there, we actually do not know each other at all.
One of the concepts I am currently learning with the support of Husband (and Counselor), is this: stop giving a f*** what people think. (My verbiage, not theirs.) Basically, it's time to stop seeking the approval of man. And, one way to engage in this process is by testing the words that are spoken to me. Lately, I've been (attempting) to test people's opinions of me by asking myself some or all of these questions:
Who spoke the words?
Does he/she know me?
Does he/she understand me?
Does he/she love me?
Does he/she have my best interest in mind?
Is this person trustworthy?
What was I doing or saying that precipitated his/her words?
What is his/her temperament typically like?
What is his/her past and current life situation?
Whether the person's words carry weight in my life is dependent upon the answers to those questions. Husband, weight. Random old guy who doesn't approve of my tattoos, no weight. Close friends at our church (K), weight. Facebook Commenter mentioned above, no weight.
The beautiful thing about this process is that it facilitates trust, mercy, and compassion. For as I learn whose voices have weight in my life, based on answers to the questions above, I am more thankful for the words that may be difficult for them to say to me. I understand that it is far more difficult for someone who knows me, understands me, and loves me to correct me; and words that could potentially hurt me now have potential to heal me.
Likewise, when I dispel the opinions of those whose voices carry little to no weight in my life, again, based on answers to the questions above, I am quickened to be more compassionate towards them. Because I am not taking their words to heart, I can make more effective use of my heart - to offer empathy. In fact, it is becoming apparent to me that questioning both the the external and internal voices in my life is necessary to build trust with others and become trustworthy myself. Most importantly, however, filtering our external input and internal dialogue equips us to develop security in who we really are - His.
Just to help you remember this concept, here is a quote from one of my favorite books:
"And just because a talking donkey tells you something doesn't mean it's true." Matt Mikalatos, Imaginary Jesus
Lord, thank You for Your compassion, mercy, and truth. Please help me to see people's perspectives before jumping to my own conclusions about who they are or what they need. I long to see humanity through Your eyes and to love as You love. I ask that You would keep my eyes and heart focused on Your truths and that You would remind me of those truths when I am weary. Give me wisdom and discernment in weighing the words others speak into my life. Help me to forgive others as You forgave me and to draw people closer to You. I do not want to have a reckless tongue, rather I pray that my tongue would speak words of life, bringing healing to others. And, bless Facebook Commenter deeply and richly with an outpouring of Your perfect love. In Jesus' name, amen.