October 14, 2022

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

Carefully consider the choice and power of your words

Kimberly PohoveyAs someone who likes to inspire through writing, carefully curating words is vital. I thoughtfully choose my words because I know they have great power.

Recall the old children’s adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” The truth is, they can. Harsh words do affect us. Idle gossip hurts. Sarcasm wounds.

In today’s culture, so many people abuse the power of words. Words are used carelessly or calculatingly for the intention of inflicting pain. Words carry great weight and meaning. Like any other gift from God, he expects us to use them wisely.

I’m reminded of a song by country and Christian singer Eric Church titled, “Kill a Word.” Throughout the lyrics, he talks about all the ways he would kill a word if he could.

While at first listen, it sounds negative, the truth is he sings about a plethora of words we can all do without—words like hate, regret, temptation, wicked, disgrace, vile and hostile. He sings, “I’d turn lies and hate to love and truth,” and goes on to say, “ ‘cause you can’t unhear, you can’t unsay.”

Words can cut. Or words can praise.

Words of praise and encouragement can empower and lift us, give us courage and help us to lift others in turn. One of my all-time favorite worded slogans came from NASA: “If you can’t put people up, please don’t put them down.”

The New American Standard Bible—which, by the way, contains 782,815 words—gives us ample examples of how words can heal or hurt. A verse in Proverbs tells us, “A person’s words can be lifegiving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook” (Prv 18:4), while James reminds us, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (Jas 1:26).

The words we choose often come from where we’ve been. A hurt person will in turn hurt others with their words. Someone who has been surrounded by kind and encouraging words will in turn inspire the same in others. But at the end of the day, despite our environment, we all have a choice.

The Gospel of Matthew instructs us, “A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil” (Mt 12:35). Matthew also extols us, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mt 12:36-37).

We should all be vigilant to choose our words. And if we’re unsure what to say, the Holy Spirit left us with more than 700,000 words in a book to be our guide. “It is written, ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ ” (Mt 4:4).

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of major and planned gifts for the archdiocese.) †

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