Sticks and Stones…

Children can be very inventive when finding ways to hurt other children. Name-calling, shunning, shaming, or just pushing, shoving, and tripping each other on the playground. As parents, teachers, and concerned adults, we should be working to instill compassion and discipline in our children– compassion to see how such actions and words hurt, and discipline to keep them from speaking and acting out of emotion and carelessness. We also spend time wiping away the tears and comforting those children who have been bullied and hurt by their peers. And we teach them sayings like, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words (or names) can never hurt me.” Such sayings mean well, but they are not entirely true. Words and names can hurt. They DO hurt. And they don’t just hurt the person who is the target of such words. They hurt the speaker and everyone who lets the words fall unanswered, or who picks up the words to hurt someone else.

Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

Christians should stand out as beacons of light and love. Yet many of us are guilty of throwing “sticks and stones” every bit as hurtful and thoughtless as those hurled by playground bullies.

A few years ago, I read with some shock a hate-filled article from a Christian woman who was urging all her Christian friends to boycott “Operation Christmas Child”, a group sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, a charitable organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of the famous Evangelist, Billy Graham. Every year, Operation Christmas Child sends out millions of shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts, meant for some of the poorest children around the world– orphans, refugees, and those in extreme poverty. But according to this woman, Operation Christmas Child was a hate-filled organization, spreading racism and condescension by sending “white” “western” baubles meant to taunt the recipients–useless articles like dolls and toy cars and color books with crayons. She also called out Mr. Graham as a racist, homophobic, hate-monger who should be — well she did stop short of asking for his assassination, but not by much. (I’m not here to champion Mr. Graham. But she gave no examples of racism and homophobia, nor did she give Mr. Graham any chance to defend his organization.)

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Her proposal was that anyone wishing to help someone in a “third-world” country should instead send their donations to a group that provides livestock– goats and chickens–to struggling farmers and families in developing countries, giving them the means to be self-sufficient, independent, and providing practical help instead of “frivolous toys”.

Photo by ÀniL on Pexels.com

I spent hours crafting a response to this woman’s article– one I later deleted without sending. I believe her proposal came from a heart that sincerely wanted to help others. And I think her hatred and disgust for Operation Christmas Child was based on criticisms she felt were warranted. But her article left me in tears for three reasons:

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com
  • It was hateful and filled with the kind of name-calling and condemnation that Christians should not just avoid, but mend and correct with love and grace. That doesn’t mean that we cannot say anything negative about other Christians or criticize their actions if they seem inconsistent with the Gospel. But there are Biblical guidelines for doing so.
  • Second, the article was divisive. She did not allow that anything about Operation Christmas Child could be done with a loving motive or a positive outcome. Because she found issue with the founder and with the design of the boxes and certain contents, she felt justified in condemning everything and everyone connected with it. And because she had found a solution that made her feel virtuous, she wanted every Christian to follow suit.
  • Finally, I believed her article was driven primarily by the passing emotions of rage and disgust self-righteousness, instead of a desire to do whatever she could to honor God and help those He loves. In fact, the majority of those living in poverty around the world (and thus subject to the goals of the charities she contrasted) live in urban areas–often they are homeless or live in crowded refugee camps or sprawling housing complexes. Sending livestock can certainly help farms or families who have land and food available to tend them. It is a helpful and loving gift to send a goat to a family or small village–it is however, impractical to send a pair of chickens to someone living in a high rise in Nairobi, and her advocacy shows a “western”, “white” naivete that rivals the one she sees in dolls and color books and caricatures printed on the boxes used to send them.

My response was no better–it pointed out her faults (as I saw them), and was designed to make her feel foolish and little and “wrong”. And just because I deleted it then, I obviously have not forgotten the incident. But I bring it up now because I see in it an ongoing problem—one to which I am not immune, even as (or maybe especially as) a Christian. It is very easy, especially with social media, to speak “in the moment”– and often in the emotion of the moment. We react, rebuke, chime in with our “two cents,” and let our tongues (and fingertips) destroy when they should be building up.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” Proverbs 25:11

Taken from pinterest.com, based on Proverbs 25:11

So, for this new year, am I hurling sticks and stones, as I sneer at those with whom I disagree? Am I like the playground bully, finding delight in calling others names, or laughing at their expense? Am I tearing down other Christians because I hear others being critical? Or am I using my tongue (and my keyboard) to bless others? Do I speak the truth (harsh as it sometimes is) with love and grace, or with pride and condescension? Do I listen more than I speak? Would I want Jesus to read my Facebook posts or hear my conversations? (Because He DOES!) Does He speak through me?

May His words take up residence in our hearts and spill out of our mouths and fingertips today!

An Encouraging Word

It can be a dog-eat-dog kind of world out there.  Every day, I hear of people who are facing difficult and trying circumstances– health issues, loss of a job or home, loss of a family member or close friend, depression, oppression, harassment, rebellious or estranged children, abuse, academic failures, exhaustion from being provider, caregiver, etc.– even just daily stress.  It can really take a toll.  But it becomes even more difficult when we isolate ourselves.

When I get stressed, I tend to withdraw.  I don’t want others to think of me as a failure, or to think less of me in my struggles.  But this is one of the worst things I can do.  First, it means more worry and stress because I’m bearing the burden alone!  Second, it forces me to cover up my level of anxiety or depression be pretending that things are fine then they aren’t.  That would all be bad enough, but it gets worse.  Isolating means my focus turns inward– my problems become bigger, not smaller;  I’m so close to the problem, I’m not able to “look outside the box” for solutions, because my box keeps closing in on me.  I can’t see beyond my circumstances to understand if they are temporary, or if they necessitate some life changes on the other side of whatever crisis I’m dealing with.  And, worst of all, the only voice I listen to is my own, rehearsing and reminding me of the difficulties or failures I’m facing.

pexels-photo-936048.jpeg

We all need an encouraging word now and then; a voice telling us that we are not alone; that all is not lost; that there is hope.  I have been blessed with wonderful family, friends, and neighbors who are great about encouraging me, even when I try to shut them out or pretend that everything is grand.  Sometimes that encouragement comes through conversation; sometimes a card or text message or a shared piece of scripture; sometimes it comes through prayer.  I may not even know who prayed, or what words they used until days or weeks later, but their faithfulness in praying has become a lifeline when I feel isolated and overwhelmed.

This does not negate my need to pray and ask God for wisdom, healing, or strength for myself, nor does it suggest that God doesn’t answer my prayers.  Instead, it shows a pattern– God often answers our prayers by incorporating and using those around us.  God’s goodness and his love are shown best in teamwork.  We run the race to win, but we race together as teammates, not competitors.  We share sorrows, struggles, and joys. We come alongside; we lift others up, and they lift us up in return.

Encouragement does so much, we sometimes underestimate its power.  In a world of sniping, criticism, name-calling, and finger-pointing, encouragement does the following:

  • It lets someone know that they are seen and heard– that they are being noticed, thought of, and valued.  This shouldn’t be uncommon, but in a world where we are connected to so many be technology, and to so few face-to-face, it is HUGE!
  • It give us perspective to realize that we are not alone in our problems and not unique in facing difficulties.
  • It reminds us that hope and help are gifts to be shared, not something we must earn.
  • It gives us a purpose and a mission to be part of God’s redemptive work– Jesus gave encouragement and hope to those who needed it most, not to those who “deserved” it.

It can be a dog-eat-dog world out there, but we are not dogs.  We are children of the King.  Let’s send out some encouraging words today!

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)

pexels-photo-416443.jpeg

Also see James 5:13-16 on praying for one another.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑