Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2
The old saying goes: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This isn’t true. Words spoken carelessly or harmfully can damage a child for a lifetime. When I go into a store and hear an adult berating a child, telling them that they are stupid, bad, worthless, or whatever adjective (and often expletive) comes out, I cringe. Most children just want their parents to love them unconditionally and to support and encourage them. They look up to us as adults and seek our approval.
I used to teach music at the elementary level, and over and over again I worked with children who were told they couldn’t carry a tune overcome that idea in their heads. When someone worked with them one on one, they often could match pitch and begin to connect the brain with producing the correct pitch. I’ve also seen it in adults who were told they couldn’t sing in music class by some unthinking and unkind music teacher, so they carried that belief into adulthood. (Even some adults can be taught to sing on pitch, by the way!)
The damage that is done when I child repeatedly hears: “You’re no good.” “You’re just stupid.” “You can’t do that.” “You don’t like that food (whatever it might be).” “You’re terrible at spelling.” “You’re too fat, too thin, to tall, too short.” “You were a mistake.” or whatever the sentence might be will live it out. How many adults are walking around really believing that they just aren’t good enough? I think this is reflected in our society repeatedly by the need that some children and adults have to bully others.
Most bullies don’t have enough self-esteem to make it on their own, so they get their kicks from being mean to others. They use derogatory words, physical abuse, spread rumors, terrify the other child (or adult), and love the feeling of power they have from being able to make someone else afraid. It’s a false sense of power, though. It only reveals the coward inside the bully. In this day and age, most kids learn to bully from their parents (not all, of course!). The parents bully them, verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse them, or think their child can do no wrong (which is a type of emotional abuse). So we as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, teachers, leaders, pastors, congregations, communities, school administrators, and the list could go on and on, cannot hide our heads in the sand and ignore.
The scriptures tell us to love one another, even our enemies. We are called to imitate God, to be God’s beloved children, to express our anger in constructive ways (be angry, but do not sin), to care about other people and to build others up by the choice we make in words and actions. If we need an illustration about how desperately this is needed, we only need to drive down a busy road or stand in line in a store to see how selfish and self-centered some people can be.
We are called to live counter-culturally in a world that teaches us to “look out for number one” and to get all we can get for ourselves. We can make a difference in choosing a different response to someone else’s misbehavior, to someone else’s abuse, to someone else’s nastiness. We can choose to be kind and compassionate in the face of rudeness and uncaring. We can choose to befriend instead of un-friend. We can choose to speak kindly or not speak at all. The choice is ours, and the scriptures encourage us to live this way as we live out our faith in this world.
Let us be imitators of God as God’s beloved children who are sent forth to manifest the presence of Christ in this world!