“I hate your son.” The words cut right through the sunshine, splashing, and laughter. Today was to be our day at the pool celebrating my oldest son on his birthday. This year there would not be a big bash, his request was a chill day swimming with friends, dinner with family later, along with s’mores and sparklers as we mark every year. The kind of perfect June summer day we long for wrapped up in birthday goodness.
And here we stood with words that seemed to hang above us. A change in the sweet summer air. An accused younger brother by my side, a boy we barely knew, a catching-up-on-life conversation with another mom interrupted, and the ugly words.
I could hear my heart beat. My mind started to fill and my chest tightened as my inner voice started in, your response will either fuel this fire or put it out. First thinking of the word hate and how it held the same meaning for my boys as it did for me, a strong word we don’t use or take lightly.
In the pause, the boy repeated himself. Goodness. We get it.
I scanned the pool, no parent nearby. I looked at my son, he was upset but I could also tell he was confused, surprised. This interaction not something I am well-versed in, my overly friendly younger boys usually travel as the foursome they were born into and find a way to make a friend out of anyone.
What could have happened? I was right here.
I looked at the boy, who was a couple years older than mine at seven, and I felt that wave of protection for my son, yet I wanted to know why he chose those words. I started in gently, “those are such strong words, what would cause you to use them?”
He was splashed and didn’t like it. He hated it. He turned to his younger sister. She knew my boys. “You shouldn’t play with them, I don’t like them. They are mean.” My other three had made their way to me and one opened his mouth to object.
And then she changed how the events would unfold with her words. She told her brother that she liked my boys, they were her friends, and they were going to continue to play. Somewhat warily I let the boys continue, determined by her resolve. They did play some more without incident, yet the moment stuck with me.
Thankfully my oldest didn’t know of the exchange until later and another memorable birthday was in the books. He was disappointed, “Why do kids use such harsh words?”
Later, in the quiet, it was time to sit with God and chat. This ugly had been lurking, in moments throughout the school year, sports, and now it was reaching into our cherished summer fun. My boys were getting older and the words at them stronger and more cruel. The battle much larger than some rough words at the pool. It wasn’t a coincidence the meanness came right to us on a day of celebration. In the emotion of the moment I may not see it, but in the reflection afterward I can. There is a thief that aims to steal the joy and he will use our words to do it.
In the Krol home we have a saying, own your stuff, and this includes owning our words, our actions, everything. Our words have such power and we want our boys to truly understand that we don’t just get to say things without thinking about their impact. We talk to them about the way they speak to others. If they are using their words to build or tear down.
Words have become a cheap commodity with no value backing them. When someone calls us on what we say we can blame them for their interpretation or downplay our intention, but the reality is our words carry weight and they should. And we need to respect the power that God gave us in our language.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that is may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29, NIV).
We fail with the words we choose and the way we can use them at instead of for one another. And when we do, in our home, we have to own it. When we own our words we regain the power to use them for His good.