My son, husband, and I were listening to a presentation by a mental performance coach. He invited a dozen high school football players to the front of the room for a little test. He handed them a sheet of paper with numbers in a random order. They had one minute to locate the starting number of his choice and then find as many subsequent numbers as possible. He had them perform the same test again, this time with a parent, teammate, friend, or sibling standing next to them.
The test was given one more time, but this was where it got uncomfortable. He asked strangers to stand next to these boys and say demeaning, derogatory things. At the same time, those of us in the crowd had to spend that one minute yelling, “You suck!”
The coach discussed their varied results. Some performed better with a supportive partner, and some performed better under the stress of antagonism. His job is to help athletes build mental strength so when they are faced with stressful situations, they have the tools to overcome.
While the coach made a point about the effect of yelling on other people, I noticed the effect on the people doing the yelling. Here was a crowd of about 150 athletes and parents of athletes, and when we were told what to do, we laughed nervously and cast unsure glances. But we did it, knowing there was a point. For the first 20 seconds, we chanted fairly loudly. We gradually became more and more quiet because we didn’t feel right about the words we were saying. We lost our enthusiasm because it wasn’t kind or right. The coach noticed and motioned for us to pick it back up. So we did, uncomfortably and unenthusiastically, for the final 20 seconds.
The coach’s lesson was on controlling our thoughts no matter our situation, but I kept thinking about the effect our words have—on us and on the people around us. Yelling negative thoughts was exhausting. Solomon, a king who lived thousands of years ago, had a lot to say on the topic:
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered” (Proverbs 17:27).
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
“Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues” (Proverbs 10:19)
“Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue” (Proverbs 11:12).
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
We live in a world that is constantly willing to yell, “You suck!” If we’re honest, we are often willing to participate—and sometimes we even say it to ourselves. This isn’t healthy for anyone. So how do we make the change?
We look to the Father who was willing to call his Son up to the front of the room—the cross—while people yelled the equivalent of “you suck” to Jesus. He took their taunts and the Father’s abandonment so that he could defeat death for us. When we hear the words, “It is finished,” we know that we are healed eternally. Each day when we wake up, we have the mission to be prudent, life-giving bringers of healing to ourselves and to others. We stop saying, “You suck.” We get to tell others, “You are loved. You are forgiven. You are valuable. You are his.”
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor with a degree in psychology, so she understood the mental health coach’s message far more than she understands when a football coach is talking about plays.