I stopped scrolling. This beautiful brown face with a bright smile was staring back at me. A deep sadness struck my heart when I read the article’s title under her name. “Bullied Teen Who Killed Herself Apologized for Being Ugly. Didn’t Want Any Photos at Funeral.” One quote from her dad resonates within me to this day, “Everything they told her, she believed.” *sigh* Whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” lied. In fact, the Bible says the exact opposite. We are warned that the power of both life and death rests in the tongue.
There is such great power in name calling. Even Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am? (Matthew 16:13)” For better or for worse, being called a name can have an immense impact on our lives. When so much of the world calls out names that hurt, we have to fight back by using names that give hope and healing. One of my favorite examples of this is Gideon. His experience can be found in the Old Testament book of Judges. Here we find the Israelites suffering from their own disobedience… again. They are being destroyed by the Midianites and have finally turned back to God for help. God, merciful as He is, sees fit to rescue the Israelites…again. Enter Gideon. Gideon has no idea, but God has chosen to use him to deliver the Israelites. He sends an angel to let him in on the plan.
“When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” – Judges 6:12 (NIV)
Straight out the gate, the angel of the Lord calls Gideon a name that reflects what God has already said about him: mighty warrior. The angel didn’t make up a name based on what he thought, what he saw or how he felt. He called Gideon “mighty warrior” because that is what God said about him. We, too, must be intentional about seeking out what God is saying about the kids we serve so that we can be in agreement with Him. If we are deliberate, we can water the seeds God has placed in them with our words. But just because we agree with God doesn’t always mean our students will too. Look at Gideon. When the angel tells him how God plans to use him as a mighty warrior Gideon immediately questions his ability based on his self-identity.
“Gideon said to him, “Excuse me, sir! How can I rescue Israel? Look at my whole family. It’s the weakest one in Manasseh. And me? I’m the least important member of my family.” Judges 6:15 (GW)
How often do we see our kids do this? How often do we do this? We doubt our ability to do amazing things because of how we see ourselves. “I’m bad at math. I’m not as smart as they are. I can’t make honor roll. I’ll never pass this class. I can’t reach these kids. I suck at this. I’ll never be great.” Death. It is critical that we recall the Word says the power of the tongue can speak life OR death. How frequently do we witness people killing seeds and strangling dreams with their words? How guilty have we been of doing the same? So many of our students have come from environments where death has been spoken into them for so long that it has given life to zombies. Some of them even sat in classrooms that were like graveyards. And if we don’t change the tide, some of them may end up there. We can choose to be different. We can choose life. We have to.
As we build intimacy with God and build relationships with our students we can get to know them, and call them, by names that reflect the plans God has for them. The right relations and conversations can restore and rebuild one’s faith in themselves. This is not easy work, but it is necessary work. And fruitful work. God shows us this in the way He wrestles with Gideon’s doubt. He pushes back against what God has said. For so long he has seen himself in a certain way. For so long he has believed what others have said about him. It’s hard to hear differently. He asks God to prove Himself many times over. God, being patient with his student, does just that. Judges 6 and 7 give us a beautiful picture of the tough tango it takes to finally see Gideon become what God already said he was, but he gets there. God doesn’t waver from what he has said about Gideon and neither should we waver in believing what He has said about our kids.
We can do this. There are some truths that can be said about all of our kids. Yes, even that kid. And yes, even that other kid too. From the genesis of creation, God made all of us in His image. He made mankind and called us “very good.” So we know there has to be something good we can say about allllllll of our kids. The works of God’s hands are wonderful and that includes every student He has placed in your care. Each child is uniquely crafted and cared for by Him. The Word says that He has given us all gifts, without regard, which means whether you teach the “GT kids” or not, every one of your seats is filled with someone who is “gifted and talented.”
“Hey, beautiful humans! Good Morning, gifted ones. Greetings, wonderful people! I want to hear from you, talented scholars. What do you think about that, inquisitive thinkers? Try again, bright learner. You can do it, goal crusher! I expect better from you, young leader.” If we are purposeful, we can allow our speech to resuscitate, restore and refine. Imagine if everything you said, they believed.
So, what does your classroom sound like? Your home? Your inner thoughts? We can no longer afford to miss out on the daily opportunity to flex the power God has given us to create the world we want to live in (and the classroom we want to teach in) through our words. You got this, world changer, life saver.