Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Words Matter

First day of my sophomore year of college.
I was a sophomore in college. The summer before the school year started, I'd broken up with my boyfriend, a guy I call Paul. (It's not his real name.) He and I had dated when I was a freshman. The honest truth of it was that I didn't feel like the relationship was God-honoring, right, or even anything I wanted, so I ended the relationship over the summer. Or at least I thought it was the end.

When Paul and I got back on campus, he asked to see me, to talk things over. I agreed. We were friends, after all. I didn't consider it a bad break up and had hoped we could remain friends. We got together and talked about why the relationship didn't work. We went our separate ways. And then something changed. All of a sudden, Paul started talking to me online.

I don't know what it is about online stuff, but I think it makes you bolder...more able to say what's on your mind without worrying about the consequences. You might say what you want to say, and it might make you feel better in the moment, but the truth of it is...words are words. And they stick around.

I'll never forget the night Paul started calling me names. He was angry with me. Angry that I wasn't being the kind of friend he wanted, angry that I wouldn't be his listening ear anymore, angry that he felt alienated from our group of friends. He wished things had never changed between us, and he said so in many ways. He asked me to come back to the relationship. But I couldn't. The names got worse, the accusations got worse, and finally I decided the only choice I had was to cut Paul out of my life. So I did.

But the words. The names. They stuck around. Every once in a while I'd be looking in the mirror, and Paul's voice would pop into my head, telling me exactly what he thought of me. Or I'd be hanging out with a guy friend, and Paul's voice would hover through my thoughts, calling me all sorts of nasty things for spending time with a guy other than him. Even though I tried not to put any stock into the things Paul had said to me, the words were there. And even though the things he said weren't true, they started to knock me down.

Negative words matter. They stick with you even when you know they aren't truth. They come back to taunt you, maybe even years later, if you don't find a way to let go of them.

And that's why the positive words matter, too. When I broke up with Paul, when he started tearing me down, a group of my friends gathered around me. They called me and checked on me. They wrote me letters. When Paul said mean things, they refuted those things. They showed me what it means to be part of a group of loving friends. They prayed for me. My friends rallied around me, protected me, and poured truth into my life. The words they used were like ice packs on my bruised heart. They reminded me of my worth, of good things I'd done, of times I'd done the right thing.

And those words carried me through the rough times, the dark times, and the times when I questioned everything. The negative words from Paul hurt and, truthfully, they stuck with me for a long time. But the good things? The true words? The words my friends covered me with during that time...well, they're the words I remember the most.

Never under estimate the power of a kind word. You never know when someone might need it. :-)

Ashley Mays is the former Editorial Assistant for Brio and Brio & Beyond magazines and currently writes her own fiction for teens. She enjoys rock climbing, people watching in airports, and expanding her shoe collection. Ashley lives with her husband in Colorado. No, they don't ski. Learn more about Ashley on facebook or on her website: http://www.ashley-mays.com/.


Sierra said...

That is so sad Ashley! I haven't had anyone really say anything mean to me. I can just imagine ow hard it must have been though. That old saying 'Sticks and stone may break my bones but words can do no harm" really isn't true. They can hurt and even though they are untrue we believe them.The ones spoken to us and the ones whispered in our ears by Satan. Good friends and God are the cure. I'm so glad you had such great friends!!!
Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

Mindy said...

I just want to let you know how much of a blessing this post was to me. I have recently broke up with my boyfriend of two and a half years because I did not feel like that was the relationship that God wanted me to be in. He was my best friend, and my number one supporter in life, but we were not growing together in our faith. I have now dealt with being called horrible names from him, his friends, and his family. I had to end up removing him from my life as well, and though it is tough I know God still has a plan for me and my love life. I really needed to hear these words tonight. Thank you so much for writing them.