Hear me, O God, as my complaint I voice; From threat of enemies protect my life. Hide me from every plot of wickedness And from the rage of evildoers’ strife.
They whet their tongues until they are like swords, Their bitter words like deadly arrows aim. They shoot in secret at the innocent, And suddenly attack him without shame.
They spur each other on to evil deeds; Their snares they cover, saying, “Who will see? We surely have devised a perfect plan.” How cunning human minds and hearts can be!
But with sharp arrows God will shoot at them, And suddenly they’ll be struck down and slain. So, using their own words, he ruins them And all who see will treat them with disdain.
All people then will fear and will proclaim The works of God and think upon his ways. Let righteous people glory in the LORD! He shelters them; so let them give him praise.
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.’ Apart from when they do.
Now, as in the ancient world, words can have great power. Labels we carry from childhood, whether attached by family or teachers, can haunt us throughout our lives. They can become who we see ourselves as. They can be a filter through which every other word of praise or insult can be attenuated or amplified. They can cast a shadow that can be hard for others, and ourselves, to truly be aware of.
We can also apply such labels to other people without being aware of it. We build up a set of assumptions throughout our lives and place different people in our defined categories. This can be from a first impression, long, hard experience, or from what other people have told us. These are the lenses through which we look out on the world. They save us the effort of thinking about everything, disturbing our plans, and changing our attitudes.
We need to be challenged to re-evaluate our responses or assumptions from time to time. To think about why we reacted in such a way, felt a certain emotion, or had a particular thought. We can’t do it all the time, or we’d never get anything done. But perhaps when our response surprises us it deserves to be reflected upon?
Listening God, hear my fears; embrace my anxieties. I give thanks: for when the right words come to me in reply; for when a stranger challenged the mob; for when in the heat of conflict, a word or gesture defused the situation; for the relief when an adversary scuttled away to the sound of laughter. Remind me that I am your beloved child and bear your image. Assure me that I am loved and valued. Help me to listen for your words and rest in your embrace. Amen
The Rev’d David Coaker, minister of Grays URC and a chaplain to the Moderators of General Assembly.