Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones–But Words Will Crush My Spirit

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

My sister Claire wrote up the following anecdote about an event she witnessed in a recent intercessory prayer session at her church.

It was Sunday evening and time for the prayer warriors to gather and pray. You could feel the joy and anticipation in the friendly chatter as everyone arrived.

One participant, a lovely, well-dressed older woman there with her husband, came to pray for others but also to receive prayer for her own severe physical issues.

When it was her turn for prayer, she asked her husband, who was sitting across the room,“You had a dream about me being old and in a rocking chair, right?” You could hear the hope in her voice.

“Yes I did,” he replied, then added with a chuckle, “and I said you were ugly.”

Shocked glances at him prompted him to justify the insult by saying, “Well, I had to be honest, didn’t I?”

And it felt like it was not the first time she hung her head quietly from the hurt and shame…

My sister and one or two others offered him some alternative responses that would have not only honored his wife but also nurtured her hope, sentiments reflecting Jesus’ “dream” for her as mirrored in Scriptures such as the following:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25).

Love is patient, love is kind…(1 Corinthians 13:4).

And my sister prepared two questions for him should an opportunity arise later to address the issue:

“Does Jesus think we’re ugly (undesirable) too, when we reach old age?”

“Wouldn’t Jesus’ kindness have found words that lit hope in her heart and beautified her face with a smile?”


The title of this post is changed from the original idiom, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me”–which is a deceptive idiom at best yet often tossed out as a simple fix to those whose spirits have been crushed by verbal abuse; who have been the targets of random criticism, ridicule, and insults even though the perpetrator might quip, “Just joking!”or “You’re just too sensitive!” in an attempt to shift the blame.

But what verbal abusers don’t comprehend is the truth of the following Scriptures that explain the more likely emotional fallout from such cruelty:

The words of the reckless pierce like swords… (Proverbs 12:18).

The tongue can bring death or life… (Proverbs 18:21).

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).

Fortunately, however, for the sake of the shamed and humiliated woman in the prayer meeting–and all others who suffer because of cruel words,

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

And that is not all. The Word of God Made Flesh, Jesus, also…

…heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).

I pray this will happen soon for the lovely woman at the prayer gathering with the thoughtless husband who would say such things to her…in public…and he is an associate pastor of that church.

And I also pray her husband will “come to Jesus”–literally and in the fullest sense that that idiom suggests.


Post Script:

When I hear about or witness people who feel entitled to put down and/or ridicule their loved ones like that, I am always reminded of one of my favorite quotes by the author Henry James:

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

Kindness enriches, blesses, nurtures, strengthens, encourages, lifts the spirit, and heals–whenever it is gifted.


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2 Responses to Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones–But Words Will Crush My Spirit

  1. I felt sick when I read that man’s words toward his wife. Horrified. Angry. And so grieved for that dear woman. Words are the cruelest cut of all, since the wounds they inflict never really heal.

    And so many of us – perhaps all of us (?) – have experienced something tragically similar.

    Thank you for drawing attention to an issue that is all too often ignored.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pnissila says:

      Thank you, Cindy. This little story and commentary isn’t much to offer to correct, sadly, such a pervasive problem, but maybe it will help someone reading about it who has suffered from this kind of abuse. Sometimes it’s just one simple comment or story or action of affirmation that “tells” that person “You’re not alone,” that sparks hope. I pray it’s so for those in that situation who might stop here.


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