Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. We have all heard this rhyme. It is well intentioned. It is also wrong.
The intention of the rhyme is that we should not respond physically to cruel things people say. It is hard to argue with that sentiment. But there is another layer to this that is often neglected which is that words can be quite painful. The scars inflicted by what people say often take far longer to heal than any broken bone or bruise we might incur. Why is that?
To some degree, it is because we are relational. People need people. We are designed to be in relationships. So, if we need each other, then it is important to stop and define what is required to have a healthy, loving relationship.
Relationships are an investment and require multiple components: commitment, connection, listening, and trust. So, let’s tackle the first two; commitment and connection.
This is an incredibly strong word for many reasons but in defining the word commitment, there are two key ways it can be used.
(1) It can be a declaration of what you will or will not do. For example, I will lose weight!
(2) Or it can be a promise of what you are going to do or give. For example, I am going to give you money to buy a car!
Declarations are easy to make and so, like with all things that are easy, it’s also easy to forget or quit on. Promises are far harder to back out of and when we do back out of a promise, it leaves a permanent impression. We see this in politics all the time as people make declarations and promises. There is a reason why 80% of our society does not trust the government.
Real commitment, in a relationship, is not simply a declaration and a promise. A real commitment requires an investment involving two parties, not just one. If our primary commitment in a relationship is to ourselves, our own needs and our own time, then we should not be particularly surprised that we only get back that which we have declared and promised ourselves. Our return is directly related to what we invest. Have you been true to your declarations? Have you kept your promises? If your relationships are lacking, check your level of commitment.
No matter how extroverted or introverted we are, there is still a need for each other. We see relationships on their largest scale in communities. We are all a part of something and there is a mutual need for each other. The health of one invariably affects the health of others.
It is obvious that an infant needs something radically different than a teenager or a spouse. That is because the level of connection is very different. For the infant, the level of connection is dependency. A small child can only have that which is given. For a teenager, the shared level of connection begins to become complex as a teen is transitioning from dependence to independence. In marriage, the level of connection is challenging as you have two independent people who are connected intimately, interpersonally, and morally.
Healthy, meaningful relationships are not solely based on a “reward” system. Mutually satisfying relationships don’t come from what is being given to us; instead it comes from a relationship that has depth. Connection implies multiple levels of need and complexity.
So while the scale, depth, breadth, and types of our relationships all vary, they are all critical because as human beings, we are shaped by all of the experiences we have in those various relationships. Out commitment and connection to others is often expressed in our words and actions. That’s why words can hurt so badly. This is the very truth we see in Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
Some of the most important decisions we make in life are who we connect with. God designed us to be in relationship with Him and each other. The genius of Jesus’ words still ring true, that we might love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems an impossible task as it requires us to take our focus of ourselves and place it onto someone else. All real relationships, those that are profoundly satisfying, require that. The investments that we make into others demonstrate our level of commitment and connection to what we value. The return is the quality of the relationships that you have with your Savior, spouse, children, and family. If your relationships are not satisfying, the first place to start is to check your level of commitment and connection. Change starts with you.
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