sticks and stones

Girls are mean. Especially, or perhaps more particularly to each other. We can cut each other down with a single word or look. We know these things because we are aware of exactly what it would take to make ourselves feel terrible. Women all have the same insecurities, though different people have some more than others. But we know what hurts, and we all too often will let our mouth run away with the evilness.

I have five sisters, all younger. I cannot count the number of times we have deeply hurt each other, sometimes to the point of tears. Since we know each other so well, have known each other for our entire lives, we know everyone’s vulnerabilities and can get to them easily. Each of my sisters, myself included, has what we refer to as “the tone.” This tone is vicious. It is a cross between “I’m disgusted with you” and “I want to make feel as stupid as possible.” We often accompany this tone with a rolling of the eyes, which evokes indifference. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing will make you feel worse in any moment than if you think someone is indifferent. It is heartbreaking.

As sisters, we have learned to forgive and forget. We have to. There would be no living with us otherwise. But sometimes those words leave behind scars. Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was (pardon my ironically harsh words) a moron. Words wound deep, sometimes beyond repair. If we allow them to fester, to remain alive in our minds, we will never move on. Sometimes we don’t even want to. We cling to our wounds, allowing them to define us, creating an identity around insecurities and inadequacy. Eventually, we begin to believe them. We lose ourselves.

As sisters in Christ, we should speak words to encourage, not to tear down. We should spread joy and kindness rather than spite and hatred. We will be forgiven if we speak out of temper, but we should not speak expecting that forgiveness. We should not knowingly and willingly hurt our fellow sisters. Instead, we should strive to offer love and support. Jesus said that the second greatest commandment, after loving God, is to love your neighbor as yourself. Of all the things Jesus could have picked to be the second greatest commandment, the one thing He wanted everyone to pay attention to and follow, He chose loving each other. He didn’t ask us to give money to the church or go to services every Sunday or to read our Bibles or to pray. No. He just wants us to love each other. And He didn’t say we have to love our neighbors the way He loves us. He didn’t put that pressure on us. We just have to love our neighbor the way we love ourselves.

But we don’t make this easy. We treat each other cruelly, often causing the most harm to those who love and care for us the most. Paul often spoke of treating our fellow Christians with love. At the end of Galatians, he urges, “as we have the opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10). In Ephesians, Paul says, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk… but be filled with the Spirit, addressing each other in  psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (5:4,19). We are to walk in love. We are to uplift each other. We are to encourage, to show our love through singing. We should never use our words to harm.

Throughout Paul’s letters, he compares the church to a body. Each of us, male or female, young or old, plays a different but still very important role. We are each blessed with different gifts, because God has different plans for each of us. But the roles we each have in the church, no matter how big or small, are equally valued by God. What right have we to make each other, with our words, feel insignificant? God created each of us specifically, Christian or not. He took His time to make us into exactly the person He wanted us to be. We are each significant to God’s plan, each beautiful in His eyes. Should we really be wasting our time and talents bringing each other down, when He created us to build each other up?

Woman can be just as cruel to the men in our lives. In fact, there is a special for the ability of a woman to cut a man down: emasculating. Such a terrible word. It makes me cringe a little bit. I’ve seen many definitions for this word, but the one that most affected me was “to deprive of strength and vigor.” Wow. How dreadfully horrid. One of things I love most about men, about their personalities and character, is their strength. Not physically (though we ladies swoon a little at the thought), but mentally, emotionally, spiritually. God made them this way. I’m not saying women can’t be strong (protect me from over zealous feminists), but I’m saying one of the things that draws women to men is their strength, their ability to protect, their possessive (within reason) nature. I cannot wait to meet the man I can lean on, depend on. I don’t expect him to take on all of my problems, but I will love him for offering me strength as I go through the frustrations of life.

Now ladies, if we love this strength, if it attracts us, why do we seek to destroy it? Why do whisper such things as, “You’re not a real man,” or “You aren’t enough for me.” Why do we cut them down, taking away from them the one thing that gives them identity?

Look at what Jesus says about loving our neighbor. We are to love them as we love ourselves. Oh dear. The one problem many of us women come back to, the one thing we universally struggle with is loving ourselves. We are never satisfied. We are never happy. Rarely do we look at our reflection and think, “I love myself. I am beautiful. I am lovely.” We struggle with this. Daily. And without God’s help, without accepting His love, we find that we don’t really love ourselves at all. We are simply tolerant.

If we can’t love ourselves the way God, the God of perfection who loves us in spite of our faults and sins, intended for us to love ourselves, we can’t love others. We can’t love our sisters, our brothers, our parents, our friends, our spouses without first loving ourselves. And we should do so without guilt, without feeling conceited. God has given us permission to love ourselves (though in a strictly non-narcissistic way). He wants us to love ourselves. He created us. He wants us to love His creation. Our purpose in life is to love and glorify God. What about that isn’t to love? If we can give up our insecurities, throw off our feelings of inadequacy and insignificance and give them to God, He who carries our burdens, maybe then we can truly begin to love the way God created us to.

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