I don’t know who came up with the childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but they were seriously mistaken. Physical wounds usually heal in time. However, it takes years, sometimes a lifetime, to heal the deep gouges made in our souls from hurtful words. Unless dealt with, they become part of the recording that plays in our head, hurting us over and over. And if we believe the negative words others assign to us, they can become self-fulfilling predictions.

I’ve been called a few names over the years—not terrible, just not what I would have chosen for myself. Goodie-Two-Shoes, Shortie, Bethie, and the like. Other names, however, were deeply hurtful and degrading. Numbskull, Motormouth, Fat, Unwanted. Most often, someone spoke them in the heat of anger or frustration, pointing out my defects to deflect attention from themselves. Yet, I owned many of these labels. I felt increasingly insecure and less than, because of words spoken once in a single encounter.

It has taken years to learn I don’t have to replay those conversations in my head. Now I’m choosing to replace those harmful labels with what God calls me—Beloved, Precious, Treasure, Useful, Wise, Pure. Those loving names given by my Father are what He calls each of us who choose to become His children! When He washes away our sins, He also washes away our flaws and makes us new.

Jesus was called a lot of horrible names too—Liar, Hypocrite, Satan, Blasphemer, Lawbreaker. But He knew who He was and what He came to do. In fact, it says in John 13:3-5, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; SO he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…and began to wash his disciples’ feet” (emphasis mine). Jesus was able to do this nasty job reserved for the lowest slave because He had a firm grip on who He was. Have you ever been trapped in a room with 12 men, whose feet have been walking dusty roads in sandals? It was stinky for sure! He also knew where He was going, and that motivated Jesus to show them sacrificial love.

Jesus didn’t let name-calling distract Him from His mission. He fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah declared: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope” (Isaiah 42:1-4, quoted in Matthew 12:21).

Jesus knows what it is like to have insults hurled at you. He is gentle with bruised reeds—those who have been crushed by people or circumstances. And He speaks words of encouragement to smoldering wicks—those who want to believe, but struggle with doubts. He calls us Friend, Brother, Daughter, Son. And His view of us gives us the love and acceptance we’ve craved all our lives.

All this comes from God the Father, God the Son, and God’s Spirit—our Savior, Shepherd, Comforter, Friend, Master, Healer, Bread of Life—the Lover of our soul. 

God changes our name from Lost, Too Far Gone, Unforgiven to Chosen, Child of God, Forgiven! Matthew West does a great job of putting this wonderful truth to music.