e have all heard it, and probably even said it in our lifetime…”sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”? Yeah, that is a load of crap and we all know it.
What were some of the names you were called when you were young? Oh sure, many of those names were not meant to hurt, but some of them did. Those are the names that landed on our hearts and wounded us deeply. Unless we receive healing from those wounds, we will carry them for a lifetime. The reality is that some of the most damaging wounds that you and I have received have made us who we are today.
As I think back on my childhood there are a few names that I was called that shaped me. My brother used to call me Puss Gut and Lard Ass for instance. As a kid that was pudgy, those names stung, and as you can imagine being called those names increased my insecurity about my weight. My dad had a nice nickname for me, he called me Hemorrhoid. He would introduce me to his friends by saying “this is my son Peter, he is my little hemorrhoid, he is my little pain in the ass. I realize that my dad was not being mean or vindictive, but having to always have a funny way of introducing me to get a laugh led me down a path of believing that I really was a pain in the ass. Without even knowing it, there are situations in our story that shape us, and I believe that the Evil One is right there to drive a stake in the ground in an effort to keep us pinned down…in some cases for a life time.
Probably the most damaging name that I received was when I was 12 and in gym class. We were taking the dreaded physical fitness test…you remember those don’t you? Each student had to run in place, do jumping jacks, squat thrusts, pushups, and then climb the rope. It was my turn to climb the rope, and I knew that I was in trouble. Being a pudgy kid, and not very athletic, the rope presented a challenge for me, especially when most of my classmates were on the football team. I grabbed the first knot and began to climb, but I could only make it to about the third knot. As I hung there my gym teacher shouted at me saying “Emhoff get down off of the rope, you’re fat and you need to go home and get your mothers bra.”
All of the other boys in that gym laughed along with the teacher. I was devastated. In the locker room following the class…that is back when we all had to wear gym clothes and take showers at the end of the class…many of the boys continued what the teacher had started. My life changed that day, and sent me down a path of shame, hiding, and self hatred for nearly 40 years.
That, by-the-way, is a terrible thing to do to a young boy, no matter how pudgy or un-athletic I was. From that very moment I started to find ways to hide. The next day I was dreading going to school, as you can imagine, and I found an Ace Bandage that I wrapped around my stomach and chest in an effort to camouflage what I had learned was now something to be ashamed of. It looked good when I left for school, but by about third period the marvelous wrap job began to separate, and I looked something like the Michelin Man…talk about a major backfire. More name calling, and pointing ensued. As you can imagine, those were some really bad days.
As a result of my new identity, and the harassment that I received daily, I began to hate myself. For most of my life every time I would see myself in a mirror, I would spew horrible things to that young boy hanging on the rope. I would never take my shirt off in public. I avoided playing any kind of sport that was shirts/skins. I wore shirts that were too big in an effort to hide my fat. I have suffered from chronic neck pain for many years because of my poor posture…sort of bending over slightly so that no one could see what the gym teacher saw.
Today I am learning to love the body that God gave me. The Scriptures tell me that God looks at what is on the inside and not what is on the outside…even though the world sets a different standard that none of us can really live up to. I still cringe from time to time when I walk past the mirror, but I am becoming more and more aware that my truer image is that I am a Beloved Son of God.
Sticks and stones can break our bones, and names can and will break our hearts. I wanted to share this story not to elicit sympathy, but to pull the curtain back and acknowledge that we all have stories that are filled with shame, and heartache. No matter how cruel someone can be (I am sure that my gym teacher had his own story that he was living out of), or how painful and life altering those names can be…there is always healing that God offers to each one of us.
Oh, and one more thing…be careful what you say to others, you never know how it will impact a persons life.