By Emily Saxe
The tears soaked my hands covering my face, my shoulders shaking with the weight of sobs and the hurtful words just spoken to me. I had endured a friend attack my character for over an hour, and I sat on my couch at a loss as to how to respond to those hurtful words.
This young woman was someone I had known for only a short time, yet we quickly became kindred spirits. Despite our fast and strong friendship, I soon began noticing patterns of paranoia in her. Her fierce loyalty quickly turned into accusations and harshness once she believed you an enemy.
I never thought her anger would turn toward me.
What the Bible Says About Hurtful Words
One evening I made a comment to her that, in retrospect, did sound judgmental.
That was all she needed to unleash hurtful words on me. Her accusations about who she believed I was as a friend and person cut deeper than I had ever known words could cut.
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” -Proverbs 12:18, ESV
Hurtful words cut through our souls like sword thrusts. They start fires within our minds that consume our thoughts. Hurtful words bring destruction.
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” -James 3:5-6, ESV
How then, are we to respond to hurtful words without allowing the wounds to become infected and the fire to burn our thoughts to bitter ashes?
5 Tips for How to Respond to Hurtful Words
1. Always, always pray first.
When faced with hurtful words, our first response must be falling on our knees before the throne of God. Our souls need our Savior to stop the bleeding from the thrust of those words.
What does this look like practically? Sometimes, like my own choked out prayer in that moment when my friend left me in the wreck of her words, this prayer sounds like, “God, help me. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I just need to know you’re with me!”
Maybe your prayer will include confession of sin for any truth behind the hurtful words. Maybe it will include asking for wisdom to know if there actually was any truth at all in those thrusts, or if you need to toss aside everything you just heard.
But from my own experience, that first prayer can simply be, “Lord, hold me, for I’m hurting deeply.”
2. Respond with love.
In the midst of my own situation, the Holy Spirit guided me to remain silent through most of my friend’s hurtful words.
I allowed a few days to pass before we spoke again. Those days gave me time to pray and calm down from the hurt. I tried again and again to love her and restore our friendship after that. But again and again, she rejected me.
Whatever your own scenario looks like, respond in love to those hurtful words.
This might mean a follow-up conversation where you graciously and lovingly reveal your own hurt in the situation, asking for forgiveness where you’ve sinned.
Or maybe this means forgiving in your heart and moving on with the friendship with no follow-up conversation.
Or even still, it could mean praying for this person and stepping away from the friendship for a period of time.
However the Holy Spirit leads your loving response, know you might feel the sting of rejection despite your outpouring of love.
3. Seek wise counsel.
It took more than a year of me fighting those hurtful words in my mind — fighting and losing — before I finally sought Biblical counseling to help me work through healing and forgiving.
Throughout that year, the gash her words left continued to fester and infect my heart.
The lies that I was not a good friend and a worse Christian flooded my daily prayers and thoughts.
I feared it was all my fault, that I had done something terribly wrong and caused this avalanche of hate.
Seeking Biblical counseling does not mean you’re weak. It’s not something to be ashamed about, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
In fact, Scripture tells us that staying within the confines of our own minds is foolish.
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” -Proverbs 28:26, ESV
Wise counsel will help you work through any lies you might be believing. It will help you see your situation from a Biblical perspective. It will provide you with tools for healing.
It also provides you an outlet to talk through your experience without gossiping. When all we do is talk to multiple people about our hurt, masking our reason in the smokescreen that we need prayer or we need to figure out what to do, we actually fall into the sin of gossip.
Don’t fall into that sin. Seek Biblical counseling or approach one person in your life who you know possesses a wise, caring and mature spirit.
4. Forgive every word.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ ” -Luke 23:34, ESV
Do you know when Jesus prayed this? While He was on the cross. He forgave those who rejected and murdered Him while He was in the midst of dying the most horrible, horrendous death.
He didn’t wait until the pain was complete or until He felt He was at a safe, emotional distance from those who rejected Him. He forgave them right in the deepest moment of hurt.
One vast difference between us and Jesus, though, is His words of forgiveness uttered once last forever. Our sinful hearts must head back to a posture of forgiveness many, many times.
How do we forgive? First, by confessing any anger and bitterness we have toward our accuser. Then, by accepting the forgiveness we have in Jesus. Finally, we say, “Father, forgive her. Help me forgive her.”
And as we ask God for the grace that only He can give, we utter the words, “I forgive her of every word.”
Pray daily for the strength and holiness only found in Jesus Christ that allows you to speak those words and truly mean them.
5. Rest in Jesus.
Jesus revealed a beautiful part of Himself to me as I healed from those hurtful words. He reminded me how His friends rejected Him, too. That He knew exactly how I felt. And that I wasn’t alone.
What hope that brought me! The simple reminder that Jesus had felt this same rejection, this same pain, brought a healing balm to my open wound. And I knew that He did not want me to carry the burden of those words.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30, ESV
The heavy yoke of the enemy tells us to respond to hurtful words by harboring them. The burden he gives us weighs us down by convincing us to gossip about those words, to hold anger against that person, to play the victim.
But the rest we find in Jesus comes when we take on His easy yoke and light burden. Jesus’ yoke allows us to forgive because we have been forgiven. It provides us with peace when we take captive for Christ the lies of the enemy.
As we choose to respond to hurtful words by resting in Jesus, we will experience each day how Jesus alone can truly heal our wounds.
Prayer for Responding to Hurtful Words
Jesus, Soothe this pain. My wound feels so deep that I’m fearful it will never heal. Yet I will trust in Your guidance as I navigate how to respond to these hurtful words. Give me Your peace and joy when I face the source of these words. I humbly ask for wisdom to know how to respond in love, and especially to know how to move forward each day in forgiveness. Thank You, Jesus, for Your forgiveness! Amen
3 Bible Verses on How to Respond to Hurtful Words
- Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
- 2 Corinthians 10:5: “ We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, …”
- James 1:19: “ Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger …”
Meet the author
Emily Saxe was born and raised on the East Coast but now considers herself a Hoosier as she loves life and farm country in Indiana with her husband and two sons. Emily is founder and managing editor of her devotional-based website, To Unearth, where she encourages readers to see God at work in their ordinary. Working as a full-time freelance writer and editor, her heart and her pen are drawn to stories of faith as she helps people unearth how God is working in their lives through her devotional articles and Bible studies.