My eyebrows raised as the voice echoed through the bookstore from the next isle over near the children’s books.
Kaleb was insistent about looking at a few books on the isle we were on, so there I stood with a bundle of Berenstain Bears books under my arm, listening to what was transpiring. Certainly they were joking, weren’t they?
“You’re a liar. That’s all you will ever be,” the female voice continued.
Nope. Definitely not joking.
As the conversation continued I quickly figured out this was a mom talking to a teenage son. I could hear his muffled responses to her, even though I couldn’t fully make them out.
Both uncomfortable and embarrassed I wanted to move away from the conversation. Yet, Kaleb wanted to stay put, completely oblivious to what was happening.
The berating continued.
“All you will be good for is, ‘here you go you little re**rd, here is a little piece of paper now go wipe your a**.‘“
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
His sister was obviously embarrassed too. “Mom, stop,” she said as her mom stormed away.
She wasn’t done yet, as she returned she shared more of her thoughts and berating with her son, and the rest of the store. She threw something at him, then it was over.
I finally saw the young man who had some sort developmental challenges…
…his eyes were full of dispair and hurt.
Just prior to heading to the bookstore we had dinner as a family in a local restaurant. As I was waiting at the drink fountain there was a young lady who had developmental delays that was having a small ‘moment’ over her circumstances at the ice machine. As she panicked, her brother walked by and scolded her with, “I’m going to slap you so hard.” Then her mom came by speaking just as harsh to her.
As I stood in the middle of the bookstore, holding a stack of books we had picked to help nurture our children, an wave of emotions washed over me as I contemplated what I was hearing the next isle over and what I had just witnessed at dinner.
Heartbreak. Anger. Frustration. Guilt. Embarrassment.
I don’t claim to know anything about these families. I don’t know the situations of these children or the pressure that these parents and siblings deal with on a regular basis. I am certainly not saying that these kids are ever above discipline.
I am, indeed, judging these books by their covers.
The truth is I don’t need to know their situations to know how deep words hurt. I could see it on the faces of these children.
I’m sure you’ve heard this said before:
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Through the years I’ve been pretty open about my staggering lack of sports prowess. As a result of my un-athleticism, I struggled to find something I was good at in my elementary and middle school years. I wanted to belong ‘somewhere’ and be good at ‘something’ so I decided to give our school band a try.
My weapon of choice as I entered sixth grade was the saxophone and it didn’t take long to realize I was really good at it. For a large portion of my sixth, seventh and eighth grade years I was ‘first chair’ in our school band playing the saxophone. First chair was the equivalent of a MVP to the sports world; I thought I was the Kenny G of Page Middle School.
Band was somewhere I felt I belonged and it was something I really excelled at. Yet band was a difficult place to be as a middle school student. In a community (and culture) that ranks athletes above all others, the students in our school were at no shortage of jokes, jests and teases directed at those of us in the band.
Carrying my saxophone to and from school became harder and harder as the large black case was a walking target that said ‘tease me, I’m in the band’.
Eventually, at the end of my eight-grade year, I retired my saxophone to never play it again.
The words of others were powerful, and they impressionable.
They hurt me and caused me to put down something I was good at. I was affected by what other said. The irony is that in our youth musicians are taunted, and after coming of age they are idolized.
The fact is it does not matter if it is a young child, or a grown adult; it does not matter if it is at a racetrack or in an school; it doesn’t matter if it is in person or on social media…our words hold the power of life and of death (Proverbs 18:21).
What we say matters. Our words just aren’t empty sounds that exit our body through our mouths; our words can encourage each other or they can destroy each other. We have the ability to praise people to a plateau or demean people into despair.
Proverbs 18:12 reminds us,
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
The one place that we all hope to find safety, security and support was the very place that these two youth were being told they were worthless. Their families were their bullies.
As I stood and processed my emotions, and my anger, God reminded me of my own shortcomings as a parent.
While I haven’t verbally berated my children before, I certainly haven’t handled every situation with grace and perfection either.
I’ve lost my cool. I’ve shouted. I’ve cast blame. I’ve been rigid. I could go on.
I then wondered if the deep hurt and despair found in the eyes of others were ever found in the eyes of my children after my interactions with them.
Have I ever made them feel helpless? Worthless? Disposable?
There is such a fine line between discipline and degradation. Yet, the line isn’t really than fine at all when we really consider it.
So how do I maintain balance?
In Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Colossians we are reminded that we are not to provoke our children to anger, but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
In Paul’s letter to Titus we are reminded to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.
Our children are our tomorrow.
How can we expect them to grow in respect, if we don’t respect them ourselves? How can we expect them to grow to be gentle, if we bully them ourselves? How can we expect them to grow in love, if our pride overrides love when they are children?
They absolutely require discipline, but they also require it be done with love, respect and dignity.
So when the moment hits us that we want to lash out with our words, and it hits all of us, let us hold firm to Ephesians 4:29:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hearer.”
Their lives, and the Kingdom of God, depend upon it!
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6