“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” appeared to be the ultimate rebuttal as a child. The problem is it is in no way true. Words are the most powerful weapons we possess, they build up or they tear down but their power is undeniable.

In my work as a therapeutic social worker I sit with suicidal young people and listen to them speak of the things that led them into despair. When I started this role I expected that anyone so young with so strong a death wish must hold a tragic history of horrifying events. However, what I overwhelmingly found was that the seeds of self-hatred were most often planted when someone had posted a cruel comment on social media, started a nasty rumour or bullied the young person. They made agreements with these untruths allowing them to become the broken lens through which they viewed themselves.

As I have become more aware of God’s radical love for mankind, I have simultaneously become more careful and mindful of the words I speak. It is so easy to highlight someone’s faults, weaknesses and shortcomings. Can I in my everyday life be one who seeks to find the strengths, victories and potential in the people around me? If my words create worlds then what worlds am I creating?

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). God cannot be clearer on the power of our words. It amazes me how seldom we weigh what we are about to say and ask ourselves what the fruit of our words will be. We can even use the concept of discernment as permission to speak negatively and label people and places with our own personal opinions and agendas. The true prophetic, however, will always seek to build up and encourage, pointing people onto God’s purpose and design for them.

My passionate people are called the fiery Irish for good reason and I grew up with a wild temper. Once I was angry the filter was off and I could easily make shreds of any poor companion. I had endless wins in the war of words. One of my greatest victories in life was making my temper submit to my will and learning to manage my words. I learnt that to actually win in a war of words meant to disengage from my initial reaction, hold my tongue and speak only what would bear good fruit.

My closest friend gave me a necklace with the words “Speak Life” engraved on it this year. It reminds me that my words hold power and every time I speak I choose to partner with life or death. This doesn’t mean I don’t see problems. It means I seek instead for the solutions. I choose to speak life. Because there are enough people speaking death, I speak life.

Because I have the privilege to do so, I speak life. Let’s represent the kindness of God in our words. Let’s speak life.

By Lisa Clarke