The following is the sixth installment of a seven-part lenten blog/video series sponsored by Franciscan Media. For the previous reflections, click here. For those subscribing by email, click here to watch the video.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” If you were ever a child on a playground, chances are you’ve heard this little jingle. Taught to kids as a way to fend off bullies and maintain their self esteem, it reminds children that words only have power over us if we let them. No one, no matter how powerful, can control how we feel or what we think of ourselves.
And yet even the weakest words from the weakest people often do just that, even to as adults.
Likely, it is not “sticks and stones” that cause us the most grief on any given day—things that will objectively hurt us—but rather those little, insignificant, and powerless words that come from our neighbor. How easily we are thrown into fits of anger, frustration, and misery when called something offensive. How quickly our sense of self comes crashing to the ground when told something hurtful. For many of us, what people say and think about us is often the greatest source of strife we face, defining us and bringing us down.
We know the opposite to be true as well. How surprisingly happy, uplifted, and hopeful we feel when given an unexpected compliment. How bolstered our sense of self becomes when we are affirmed by someone we respect. For many of us, what people say and think about us is often the greatest source of assurance we receive, defining us and lifting us up.
Quite contrary to what we tell our children, words in fact do have power over us. And I wonder: should they?
To find the answer, we once again look to Sacred Scripture and call ourselves to imitate the One we follow. In the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and Passion read each year on Palm Sunday, we find a man bombarded with “words.” Ranging from glorious hymns of praise and thanksgiving for His life and ministry to ruthless shouts of disgust and vitriol for His religious dissent, Jesus is surrounded by others’ opinions of Him. Any one of us, I can only assume, would have been moved to ecstatic joy to crushing despair in mere hours. And yet Jesus is unwavering: hearing His name called like a celebrity does not inflate His ego or fill Him with pride, and being falsely accused and treated like a common criminal doesn’t cause Him to lose hope.
How? He has confidence in who He is, and no one, good or bad, can take that way from Him.
But here’s the thing: Jesus’ confidence does not come from within. He is not simply some super guru or courageously-willed survivor who believes He’s able to accomplish anything He sets His mind to. It is not Himself that Jesus believes in. No, his confidence comes from God the Father. The reason that Jesus is completely unfazed by what people are saying around Him is because He knows who He is and where He comes from: He is the Son of the Father. Who could ever take that away? What could ever challenge that status? What “words” could cause Him to think more of less of Himself than He already does? Jesus lives with unbridled confidence in this fact.
And so should we.
In our being created in the image of God and recreated in our baptism, we find ourselves as adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly God. More than anything else, this status found in our relationship to the Father defines everything about us. I’ll say it again: we are adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly God. If this is the case and we truly believe it, what could ever matter more in life than pleasing God? What could ever define our sense of self more than what God thinks of us?
In this Lenten season, as we approach the joy of Easter, we are reminded time and time again how much God loves us and wants to be with us. That which we seek most is right before us. Emboldened by this ultimate truth, may we live with the same confidence that led Jesus to accept the world around him without wavering, saying with true conviction that “words will never hurt me.”
Thank you for your words, they inspire me. Yes, we are the adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly God! So we must love, follow, serve and obey as a family. How beautiful and so pleasing that will be to our Father. Always choosing love…
“For many of us, what people say and think about us is often the greatest source of strife we face, defining us and bringing us down:……. What you say Brother Casey is so true.
If God is for us who can be against us?
If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner; for his sake, therefore, you must cease to sin. Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself. Derive some benefit from the very shame; purchase salvation with your death. Enter paradise with Jesus, and discover how far you have fallen. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy.
If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. Make your own the expiation for the sins of the whole world. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshipped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself.
After reading the above in Liturgy of Hours I thought of what you said and I also reflected on the Poem “IF”
by Rudyard Kipling: If
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make a heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!