“Who does she think she is?”
“I don’t know, but she definitely tries too hard.”
“I mean, I can’t believe she is after him. Like she has a chance with him.”
“I know, right? It’s painful to watch.”
It was an innocent enough scene, teenage girls lying in their bunks at a summer break retreat, examining their nails and flipping their ponytails and whispering and giggling to each other conspiratorially.
But they spread their words around with the quiet, careful precision of a leaf blower. Spewing and spraying, disregarding anything that might happen to lay in their wake, they snickered and whispered and never once thought about the power of their words.
And meanwhile, someone else lay there in the quiet, feeling the words burn her ears, all the while wishing she just couldn’t hear them at all. Wishing she was a thousand miles away. Wishing they would just stop.
This is the part where I wish I could tell you that I was the victim. Because at least the victim of those hurtful words would have your honor, respect, and if nothing else, your pity. But unfortunately, I was one of the mean girls.
It was high school, it was summertime, it was a lifetime ago, and that person feels like a stranger to me now. But it happened, and now, fifteen years later, I finally know why.
It’s crystal clear to me now, the reasons why mean and hurtful things spew from our mouths sometimes. I didn’t realize it then. Didn’t put two and two together and realize that every time, without a doubt, A + B will equal C. I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing, but I know now.
Insecurity breeds contempt.
And, if left unchecked, insecurity can grow to insurmountable jealousy, disdain.
Insecurity can be the ultimate death blow to a friendship.
When I let insecurity take root, it starts to poison everything else around it–inside and out–including the thoughts I think, the feelings I feel, and most definitely the words I speak.
I remember it all quite well. That night I was battling feelings of inadequacy and insecurity fiercely. I remember not even wanting to be at the retreat at all, having to face up to some mistakes I had made in my past, face people that I had hurt, people that I had let down. And this other girl, this target of my words, seemed so sweet and kind and so . . . above me. Better than what I could hope to obtain. Better than what I deserved to be.
I let those feelings creep in. I embraced insecurity and let it develop into contempt. I allowed it to fester and grow and block out the light. And that’s when the words started to well up inside me, hard and bitter and sour. And then . . . they just came out.
I wish I could go back. I wish with everything in me that I could go back to that bunk room, that place and time–trade my fine lines and few gray hairs for that youthful, teenage summer glow–and walk right up to that girl and tell her:
You are beautiful. You are enough.
You are worthy, whether you feel like it or not. You are loved. You are gifted.
You have been through a lot in your short life that you didn’t deserve, and you’re still kind.
You are strong.
I am sorry for the words that hurt you. I am sorry that they came from me.
Those words weren’t true. Because, you see, hurting people hurt others.
I should have realized that what was hurting inside of me had nothing to do with you. And it definitely never should have deceived me into saying what was untrue.
I hope you can forgive me.
Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time.
I am sure I haven’t been the first person to wish that we could, and I won’t be the last. But what we can do is perhaps even more powerful. We can learn from our mistakes, and endeavor to choose differently in the future.
I can use my words powerfully to uplift and encourage others.
I can be intentional and careful in my selection of words, whether writing or speaking.
Will these words benefit someone, somehow? Or will these words potentially damage someone?
I am humbled and grateful each time someone takes the time to tell me that something I wrote blessed them, inspired them, or helped them feel less alone. And as much as I’d like to forget that I was ever the teenage girl who said those things, I won’t, because it taught me about the power that simple words can hold.
Words can wound, or words can bear witness to Christ.
You and I have the power and the freedom to choose what we want our words to do.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography