When I was in eighth grade, I got into an argument with my sister as she was dropping me off at school. I don’t remember what the argument was about, but I was angry, and before I got out of her ’92 Lebaron, I screamed, “I hate you!” As the words came out, I realized I couldn’t take them back, but I tried. I immediately tried to cover them with, “I hate this! I hate that we fight all the time.” Ever have an experience like that? Ever said something to someone, perhaps in anger or frustration or emotional/physical pain that you wish you could take back? You didn’t mean it or you shouldn’t have said it or you weren’t expecting it to get back to them. Remember that feeling?
Now stop for a moment. Have you ever been hurt by someone who said something out of anger, frustration, emotional/physical pain? Have you ever overheard someone say something about you that was betraying? Perhaps something got back to you that your friend never expected to get back to you. Maybe they have confessed that they said it, apologized, and explained that they really didn’t mean what they said.
How do you respond to them? Hear these words of Solomon, the Preacher: “Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others,” (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, ESV). Generally speaking, one ought to respond to those painful moments by not taking the words to heart. Why? We’ve all been there. We’ve all made the mistake, many times, of saying things about others that ought never have been said. We’ve all spoken out of anger, frustration, hurt, etc. If we could take back those words, we would, but we can’t. So what can we do? We can give those who spoke against us the benefit of the doubt. Let’s not allow those words to sink into our souls and cause us deep pain. The pain of just hearing the words is shallow. That’s why we say things like, “those words stung,” or “those were cutting words.” But what we don’t want is for the stings and cuts to become infected and our souls to wind up with sepsis.
This also means that we don’t allow the words to cause us put ourselves “through the wringer.” We don’t go down the hole of “Is everything in my life a lie? What else do I not know about myself? Who else thinks this way about me?” That is then taking the words to heart when they were never meant to be taken to heart. That isn’t to say that some words ought to lead us to self-examination, but generally speaking that isn’t the case. If you aren’t sure which way to take the words, ask a trusted friend, pastor, or family member. Ask them if this is something that you need to examine or ignore. Don’t ask the person who won’t tell you the truth because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Ask the person who loves you enough to let you know if what has been said was something that needs to be worked on or if it was something someone said in haste or anger.
I asked my sister a few years ago about that day when I told her I hated her. She says she doesn’t remember it at all. I’m glad. It was a turning point for me; it helped me to get my anger better in check. Other moments have done the same. But for her, I’m glad she did not take my words to heart.
Are there words in your life that you need to forget were ever uttered? Are there friends that need to be forgiven? None of us are innocent of speaking words that we ought never have spoken. May we allow those moments we’ve committed to determine how we respond when those moments come against us.