Words can hurt! Our family moved to a new area as I entered the seventh grade. During the first week of school, I decided to try out for the chorus. Since I already participated in our church choir singing sounded like a great way to make friends and have fun. But as I timidly opened the door to the music room, the singing and the laughter stopped as everyone stared at the new kid… me.

I was summoned to the piano and the teacher handed me a piece of music. She then started playing with the expectation that I would sing. Reading unfamiliar music while also trying to sing was nearly impossible and it was obvious by the knowing looks and snickers of the other children that I was not doing well. The next words out of the teacher’s mouth devastated what little self-esteem I still possessed. “I’m sorry… you are not qualified to sing in our school chorus.”

I remember being upset and crying but I got over the initial hurt quickly enough and went on to other interests. I still made a few friends and enjoyed a normal childhood. I’m happy to confess that I didn’t grow up to be a mass murderer, drink orange juice out of a baby bottle or have a torrid affair with the church secretary. “So Larry, why are you making such a big deal about it now?

Words can hurt! Looking back on it, I’m amazed how much effect those words had on my life. To me, the teacher was an authority figure who understood music. If she said I can’t sing then… I can’t sing therefore I won’t sing. Over the next few months, I quit the church choir and when singing with others, began to lower my voice so no one would actually hear me.

Words can hurt! While reading this were you reminded of a time when someone said something that hurt you deeply? Very likely! We’ve all been victimized by words just as we have damaged others with hurtful criticism and inappropriate comments. Yet, occasionally we must offer criticism and if we are to experience growth we must also accept disapproval.

So, what are we to do?

The lesson is in understanding and utilizing the power of one word: encouragement.

The author of Hebrews wrote to a struggling church: “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.” (10:23-24) To encourage means to inspire another with courage. We hold on to our hope by trusting God and inspiring others with courage.

Words can heal! Becoming an encourager doesn’t simply mean speaking in flowery platitudes but analysis should be offered respectfully and prayerfully for the purpose of inspiring another with courage. As an encourager, I learn to be confident of God’s love and understand that unsuitable and even hurtful comments should be lovingly but firmly ignored. With God’s encouragement we can all do that.

Yes, the music teacher was cruel in the way that she dealt with my musical abilities but I now understand that it is a choice to accept the criticism as valid and have the courage to adjust or reject the comments as inappropriate and have the courage to reject them. The choice is mine.

Encouragement means that words can also heal! Nearly twenty years later, another music teacher, a choir director walked up and said: “I heard you singing during worship today and really liked the sound of your voice. Would you be interested in joining our choir?” Thanks to her continuing encouragement, I did join the choir and rediscovered that I could really sing after all… sort of. Words can heal!

Words can hurt or words can heal! God lovingly gives us the freedom to choose how we use words and how we receive them. My prayer is that we will all strive to be encouragers and use our words wisely to inspire others to outbursts of love and good deeds. Maybe that is what being the church is all about. We could certainly do worse!

Hey, maybe I should sing a solo? Not!!