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September 2015

Family in Focus


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Words: A Matter of Life or Death

By Sarah Hodges


Words have always held an intimate place in my heart. I’m inexplicably moved by the letters fitted together to form life on the pages of books; a wonder passed down to me by my mother and grandmother. This lovely relationship began early.

My two-year-old eyes sparkled when my teacher announced the magical time of free play. My friends tripped over each other to arrive at blocks, babies, and toy kitchens, while my scrawny frame scrambled in the opposite direction to the teacher’s table, where I waited impatiently while she settled the class. I watched as Mrs. Betty moved slowly, very slowly, to the “tall cabinets.” She retrieved a stack of magazines and placed them between us after sitting down next to me.

I remember reaching out gingerly to what I knew was going to be an entrancing world. I slowly opened the pages, captivated. I was mesmerized by the words—their curves and lines, color and placement.

As I grew and began to put letters and sounds together, my affection for the written, as well as spoken word, soared. Nancy Drew and I became best friends, desperately seeking to solve the cases presented to us. Thanks to my fourth-grade teacher, I developed a remarkable fascination with Oliver Twist, spending my afternoons running the rooftops of London, begging for scraps and perfecting my British accent.

Part of maturity is learning to connect to the world around you. My search taught me the painful lesson that words had additional forms. The kinds you specifically encounter from the mouths of others. Words that often subtly and discreetly are meant to harm you.

As a little girl, I remember being confused as to why words that fit together so beautifully in books or art could be reformulated in another’s mind and produced with such flippancy to wound the heart of a vulnerable soul.

It’s hard for me to recall the compliments I’ve received over the last 27 years; yet, and without too much effort, I could catalog easily the words of death that have been spoken to and through me.


There’s the distinction: words either bring life or death.

My personal experience, coupled with the stories of others I have the privilege to know, has led me to a conclusion—we, as humans, can often be judgmental. Judgment is the crux of all gossip, slander, and our favorite pastime of comparison.

Don’t believe me? Walk into any middle or high school in the nation. Adolescence is a critical time in which we are trying to navigate our place in the world—who we are, likes and dislikes, gifts and talents. In an effort to separate ourselves, we often do so at the expense of another—desperate to make a distinction between “us” and “them.” A lesson learned early that we carry with us into adulthood.

This played out in my own story. In my pursuit of acceptance and love, I’ve willingly sacrificed others on my altar of self-preservation. Sadly, this has happened more often than I’d care to admit to you. I wound others out of my own insecurities and fear—feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and self-doubt; fear of rejection, loss, and exposure.

Our hearts desperately cry out to be known, yet we are often immobilized at the thought of that being reality. We struggle to receive the truth that we are “beautifully and wonderfully made,” regardless of how many retreats or lunches we have attended where this message of grace has been championed on our behalf.

Our hearts have been wounded, and in an attempt to heal our pain, we wound others. The proverbial “eye for an eye.” Painfully, the people we target are usually completely disconnected from our real pain. They are simply easy marks. My prayer is that we would be more aware of our words and their lasting resonance in the lives of others.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).

Jesus told us that the world would know us by our love for one another (John 13:35). May we be known as people whose speech flows with life, truth, grace, and love. That we are sought out for the acceptance and peace that surrounds us, rather than avoided for our sharp tongues and careless judgments.

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).


About the Writer: Sarah has a deep affection for coffee. Her love of words has led to freelancing in typography while working alongside a singer/songwriter duo in Nashville, Tennessee.


©2015 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists