It’s a phrase shabby with use. “A picture paints a thousand words.” And it is certainly true of some photographs, although I’d argue there are some (in the photo-heavy world of social media) that only paint about 100. But what about words themselves? Do they paint anything? And if so, are we too busy trying to capture those thousand-word-photographs to realize the beauty – or harm – of the colors we are choosing?
One of my three daughters is a sparkler, rich in emotion and expression. She can be the most delightful, tender-hearted, mothering little thing; or she can be…very loud and difficult. Ultimately, she is a precious, beloved daughter of the King. But words – simple in sound, yet complex in nature – have the ability to erase that truth from my mind. It can be a word as simple as “diva,” jokingly and quietly said to my husband, accompanied by an eye roll.
“What?” I tell that little jab to my conscience, “It was just a bit of sarcasm.”
The problem is, that “bit of sarcasm” can plant a weed seed in my heart. And as any of us who helped parents pull weeds know, they are very quick to grow. Suddenly my heart is full of lies about that same precious, beloved daughter of the King.
“She is always causing trouble.”
“She is probably going to be the problem child.”
“She is just out to get me.” (Yeah, okay, Hayley. Your two-year-old is plotting to overthrow your kingdom. Dramatic much?)
Suddenly all I see is the negative, all I think about are the vices, and what comes out of my mouth paints a picture of a bratty – and only bratty – child for others. (“…for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45) Those who haven’t had ample time to observe her assume that when she comes crying to me to swaddle her dolly, she is just being overly dramatic. They don’t realize that those tears come from a nurturing heart desperate to warm a shivering little baby. How could they when all they have heard about this little girl is that she is “a bit of a diva?” And where those poorly painted pictures have an even worse impact is on my precious girl herself.
I am convinced, the more we as parents use sarcasm to define our children, the more our children will fit that definition. If she sees the eye rolls, hears the sarcastic descriptions, she feels stuck being the person described. So what happens when the opposite takes place? What happens when we deny ourselves those moments of ugly venting and instead speak of our children’s virtues, or even of virtues we hope they acquire? Our words paint pictures of our children. They paint pictures of them for ourselves. They paint pictures of them for others. And most importantly, they paint pictures of them for them.
Now, I’m not saying that we should be untruthful about the bad behaviors and choices of our children. When my sparkler exhibits her passion in a way that is unwholesome and unlovely, of course she needs discipline and correction. It is disobedient of us as parents to say, “Well, she’s just extra passionate so I’ll let it go right now.” She needs to have the ugly in her heart pointed out clearly to her. But then she needs to be reminded of who she is. I try to find every opportunity of reminding her of her preciousness; using words like “tender,” “gentle,” “thoughtful,” and “helpful” regularly.
I’m not pretending to be particularly good at the practice of speaking virtue over vice. I’ve struggled with a temper ever since I was a little girl, and parenthood has certainly brought it bubbling to the surface many times already. My struggle with biting my tongue when I’m upset with someone is a vicious one, so this blog post is even more for me than for anyone. I need the reminder daily. Mama’s, we all excuse ourselves on bad days, don’t we? Well, we shouldn’t. Our words are very, very powerful. We should wield them with caution and care.
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” – Proverbs 15:4