You have probably heard the childish taunt, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This piece of folk wisdom is at best a half-truth, with the second half being totally untrue. While sticks and stones can bring instant injury and pain, words can produce even worse and longer-lasting hurt.

According to a news report, an 8-year-old was arrested for assaulting a playmate with a stick. But the damage got worse when the parents waged a war of words that carried the humiliation and embarrassment of the children into the national press.

Sticks and stones inflict wounds that usually heal in time. But words can go much deeper and cause pain that lasts a lifetime. Such words as “I don’t love you,” “You are a failure,” and “You’re no good” can do permanent damage. Some people have been so deeply wounded that they are unable to accept words such as “I love you,” “You’re special,” and “I appreciate you.”

The book of Proverbs urges us to watch our words (12:17-22; 15:4; 26:2). We ought to pray with the psalmist, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).