“Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.” Raise your hand if you have ever heard that statement before. I am pretty sure if we took a poll, most people would say they have heard that at least once in their lifetime. While it is typically said to encourage someone to not let another person’s words get to them, it could not be further from the truth.
The words we give voice to are powerful and can either speak life or death. There are numerous Bible verses pertaining to the power of our words, along with a whole chapter in the book of James that speaks about the human struggle to tame the tongue. In reference to the tongue, James states,
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” – James 3:9-10; ESV
Our tongue can be used for the highest calling to bring glory to God, or for one of the lowest evils of cursing men. As Christ-followers, I believe we have an obligation to set an example for others in all manners of our lives, especially in our speech. The world is watching us and the words we speak are either going to point people to Jesus or turn them away.
In our social media dominant culture, there are even more ways to use our words to speak life or death. Unfortunately, it is all too common to hear stories of people bullying others to the point of them taking their own life. Thus proving that our words really do have power. So many people in our world are hurting and have never heard the truth about themselves or God’s immense love for them. What would it take to shift society’s culture to prioritize speaking life and blessings over curses and death? I believe that shift starts with us as individuals. At Wings of Refuge, we actively strive to create a culture in which we speak life.
The women who come to Wings of Refuge have most likely never heard affirmations, the truth, or anything positive about themselves. Often, they have had a life full of exactly the opposite. Therefore, we seek to change that narrative. At Wings of Refuge, we are all about affirming others, calling out strengths, dignity and worth, and speaking life. When we are preparing for a new participant to come to our home, one of the first things we do is create an encouragement jar (a spin-off of the “snap cup” from Legally Blonde 2 if any of you are familiar with that movie). This jar is painted and decorated with the participant’s name and a personalized bible verse. Throughout a participant’s stay at Wings of Refuge, staff and other participants prioritize writing encouragement notes to her. Those notes are then placed in the jar for her to discover later. While it can be hard to hear positive things about herself after a lifetime of the opposite, we have found that most participants love these notes. These notes have been added to scrapbooks, kept in a keepsake box or hung up on bedroom walls. They serve as a reminder of the amazing attributes others see in them, and most importantly, how God views them.
Another one of my favorite affirmation times at Wings of Refuge is when a participant celebrates her first thirty days in the home. Often, that first month is the hardest and yet we tend to see so much growth. To celebrate her accomplishment, each staff member creates a list of strengths they see in that participant. These strengths get compiled to create a beautiful word cloud. (A word cloud is a particular shape/design that is created by using a list of words, in our case, strengths.) During her celebration, she is presented with her word cloud and it is oftentimes very impactful. We then take turns going around the room and affirming that participant and sharing the strengths we have seen in her over the past thirty days. It is so awesome to see the power of truth and positive words begin to break down barriers.
We recently had a thirty day celebration that turned into an affirmation fest! After we celebrated and affirmed this particular participant, she took the time to go around and affirm each staff member. It was an awesome experience and one I will never forget. While I do believe this participant is a natural encourager, it was neat to see how facilitating a culture of encouragement at Wings of Refuge is truly making a difference. We all need people in our lives who call out our strengths and speak blessings over us, which is why we need the Body of Christ. To quote the Apostle Paul,
"Let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29
May we be a people who choose to use our words to speak life and bring people closer to the Lord. I pray that when we are interacting with others, they feel as though they are interacting with Jesus. May our words bring edification and impart grace to all who hear them!
P.S. Do you have the gift of encouragement? Do you love to affirm and bless others through sending notes or cards? Well, we have an awesome opportunity for you! We love to receive notes of encouragement at Wings of Refuge! Staff and participants have been so blessed by the beautiful notes we have received over the years. Those words help to remind us of why we are doing this and the truth of God’s word. If you would like to bless staff or participants with a note of encouragement, you can send them to P.O. Box 2455, Ames, IA 50010. Thank you for choosing to communicate God’s heart to all of us!
Brandi Schleisman, Spiritual Director