Growing up I lived in a family of playground bullies…and laughter came at the expense of someone less capable of defending herself against the onslaught of belittling words and sarcasm-that someone was me!
I felt angry and helpless, yet if I complained it resulted in a round merciless chastising- “Can’t you take a joke? Lighten up or what’s your problem?
I grew up learning that words can be a powerful-both as weapons and as shields. And so, I too learned to sharpen my skills in wielding them. Growing up as I did with neglect and abuse, I spent much of my childhood afraid, but later as a teenager I found that the skillful use of words made me formidable and a less desirable mark. I became sharp-tongued and could take someone apart verbally with razor-like accuracy. Later, even as a Christian I learned to do it under the pretext of humor and wit. I learned how to use my “talent” to protect myself and defend others who were being victimized.
When the Lord began to heal my broken, wounded heart He also began to reveal to me that my heart, which caused me to speak with sarcasm, needed to be transformed. It took time for me to realize that even if the hurtful things I wanted to say were true or even if they were said in jest and joking, I knew that it was out of the overflow of a wounded and broken heart that my mouth spoke.
Jesus also showed me that my words hold the power of life and death, (Eph.4:29, James 3:5-6) and that the choices I make about what to say, or what not to say, significantly affect other people.
Over the years, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I have dropped my own defenses, choosing to seek transparency and give up my “right” to speak in certain ways. I made a choice to encourage people with my words whenever I could. Choosing to speak words that build up and edify rather than humorously tear down hasn’t been an easy road. Whether my words sound humorous or hateful, I don’t want to speak words that add pain to another’s heart.
Matthew 12:34, 36-37 says this: It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words…Let me tell you something: every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”
I read just the other day these words in a book I’m reading: “Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not against irony or humor. It can give life depth and reveal humor in our often broken, topsy-turvy circumstances. God surely knows we need and want to laugh. But, now, more than ever, we need discernment to use irony appropriately. We cannot live our lives like a television sitcom, where practically all dialogue consists of cynical remarks tossed back and forth between characters who seem unfazed by the perpetual skirmishes of wit. In real life, sarcasm can hurt people. In real life, too many people use sarcasm to either wound others or defend themselves. In real life, too many people who don’t want to be hurt or bothered with intimacy hide behind mockery, scorn and derisive joking.”
I saw myself in these words many years ago…and it hurts me to know that I wounded so many people with my words…..while I don’t have to toss out irony or humor or joking altogether, I do need to carefully consider my words. While it is a gift to make people laugh, I must discern whether my words will cut or whether they will build up.
Sadly, the truth is all too often (years ago and sadly even now from time to time) I used my “funny” comments to shame others, exposing their weaknesses and/or passions in order to mock them. I didn’t always set out to do this with my sarcastic comments, but my journey of discernment has been to recognize that I do bear some responsibility for the way my words affect others.
With my words I am either encouraging another to become more beautiful or more broken….am I helping or hurting?
It has been a journey in discovering the fact that my words have power and how their influence can be wielded for good or evil. Today I choose, not always successfully because I have still wounded others with my sarcasm, wit, joking, and gossip, but with the help of the Holy Spirit I desire to speak words of life!
I will end with something I read once about the word sarcasm. “English speakers derived the word sarcasm from the Greek terms sarkasmos and sarkazein, which mean to rend. It’s no mistake that people refer to sarcastic comments as “cutting remarks”. The very origin of the word implies that cynical humor intends to rip its target apart.
Webster’s dictionary uses words such as harsh, sharp, bitter and sardonic to define sarcasm and cynicism. It is very illuminating that the word sardonic alludes to a plant native to the Mediterranean island Sardinia which, when eaten, supposedly produces convulsive laughter ending in death….without discernment, though lethal humor may not be our design, cutting and cynical jokes can spread the stench of death into our minds and relationships and destroy the reputations of others.”