What Do You Do When Words Wound?

I’ve had both of my adopted children tell me (at different points) this week that they want to go back to Africa.  And each time I am left with my heart racing.  I tell myself to stay quiet.  There is no response in that moment that can “make it all better.”  They know those words are the ultimate trump card.

“Wow. That hurts.” I say.  “I’m sorry. I know this is hard for you.”  It takes every ounce of willpower not to hurl the hurt right back at them.  To refrain from listing all the reasons why the grass isn’t always greener.  

But I know I can’t.  And I shouldn’t.  Their feelings are real.  Living here, in America, with us wasn’t necessarily Plan A.  The words originate from a place of pain and hurt and feelings of abandonment.  The irony of the whole thing is that these defensive, “throwing-words-to-wound” moments are bookended by amazing, “this family is the best family” kind of moments.  In fact, just last night, the question around the dinner table was, “What’s the most amazing blessing you’ve ever been given.”  All kids responded, “Being part of this family.”

 This is us -- you know, being a family.
This is us — you know, being a family.

When the arrows come, hurling hurt, with the express intention of wounding the hearer, they do exactly that.  They pierce the soul.  And they always come after a difficult interaction, after a “battle of wills.”

When we are calm, sane, laughing, or having fun, the arrows are tucked far away.  My kids don’t look at me as we are cuddled on the couch and say, “Mommy, I love you so much, but I really wish I could go back to Africa right now.” 

No, these words only come after I have corrected them in some way, called them out on disrespectful behavior or asked them to “try that again.”

Example:  Kids are playing in the living room.  One finishes a puzzle and walks away.  The other kid walks into the living room and starts disassembling finished puzzle.

The first child returns, “Hey!  What are you doing to my puzzle?”  

“It’s not YOUR puzzle.  It’s for everybody.I want to do it now.” 

“But it’s MINE!”  

“No it isn’t.”  

“Yes it is!”  And back and forth and back and forth until….


“What’s going on in here?”  (Like I don’t already know.)

Kids go all “he said/she said” and finally I snap, “It’s such a bummer you can’t figure this out on your own.  I’m going to save you the pain and ask you to head into my bedroom and fold the laundry.  You can both focus on another task.”

Protests.  Rebuttals.  Empty promises.  “But we…!!!”  

“Nope. It’s settled.  Let’s go. You all can try to work it out the next time.”

They huff and puff and stomp back to Mom’s room. I stay to help. One could cut the tension with a knife.  And of course, I can’t keep my big mouth shut.

“It’s so sad you couldn’t work it out.  You you both chose this.”

Then it comes. The bigger one says, “No. We did NOT choose this.”

Right then I know we aren’t talking about puzzles or laundry or consequences any more.  

“I know you don’t mean that. I know you’re mad right now.”

“I do mean it.”  (Maybe he does.)  We all grow quiet.  We fold in silence.  Until we finish and walk out of the room.  

I know this too shall pass.  I know the wave of frustration and defense will come and it will go and there will be moments of happiness and hugs again. But the reality is that this IS hard for them.  And it is so darn hard for me to just take it and absorb the hurtful words when all I want to do is somehow make the pain and the confusion and the incessant battle for control go away.  For them and for me.  I want to snap my fingers and “make it all better.”  

Recently, Holly mentioned a moment when she wished she could close her eyes and make Dave reappear.  That somehow, if Dave could come back, it would rectify all the wrong.  She loved (and perhaps still loves) Dave.  And she loves Tony.  She straddles two worlds in a way.  I suppose that’s similar to how I feel about my kids.  I love them SO much I can hardly bear the thought of what our family would look like without them.  But I also know they miss their first family, their first home.  How can we possibly hold the tension that weighs so heavy at times?

This type of love is a gorgeously complex thing to navigate because I am not Kelel and Senait’s first mommy, nor their first love.  God wove their inner-most beings inside the womb of another and, because of a broken and complicated system, their days will not play out under her watchful eye.  It seems entirely and utterly unfair at best.  Why me and not her?  I will most likely never know the answer to that question this side of heaven.  Though I cannot wrap my mind around the layered nuances of this truth, it is a reality nevertheless.  When God brought Kelel and Senait into our home He also extended our family ties far beyond our local borders.  Although this can be confusing at times, it also provides an amazing view into the vast expanse of the love of God.

I am reminded, once again to take my eyes off of myself and focus on Jesus.  When I look into His face I am reminded that I’m not in control (thank goodness!) and I don’t have to have it all figured out.  I can take the hurt because, ultimately, it filters right through me and Jesus absorbs it at the cross.  I don’t want to deny the conversation or the feelings because they are real, but I don’t have to take them on and carry them as my own.  

Jesus asks us to give all our burdens to Him.  When I do that, I can take the offense, because the reality is, He can afford it — and therefore, so can I.

PS — My kids have both since apologized.  The storms passed, we all got some space, hearts were humbled and all is right with the world.  At least, for now.

What do you do when words wound?  How do you navigate offense?

Christina’s Take:

This hurts to read. I am so sad that we cannot do a “make-it-all-better” dance of some kind and find an instant panacea for the pain – your pain and their pain. I think it is such a loving act to absorb the painful remark instead of reacting to it. That’s the part that really makes me weepy for Team Nilsen…this is an act of sacrificial giving. Thanks for inviting us into these moments – especially the ones that don’t seem cute and cuddly – we have so much to learn from each other.

Holly’s Take

Another convicting post by Megs.  I think she might just be writing for me sometimes.  I’m pretty much stuck on the line, “And it is so darn hard for me to just take it and absorb the hurtful words when all I want to do is somehow make the pain and the confusion and the incessant battle for control go away.”  So . . . what do I do with her words that wound?  I absorb them the vast majority of the time, but then when I’m tired or my sponge that absorbs her hurt is full, I squeeze some of that hurt, right back on her.  Ugh!  It feels shameful.  I am the adult, but I can be found imitating her hurling words and asking her how she would feel if I said that to her.  What is my problem?  I love what Megan wrote about letting the offending words filter right through her, as Jesus absorbs them on the cross.  I need some quick reminder of that to flash before me, when I’m tempted to react in a way that would not be condoned by the writers of, “The Well Connected Child,” (or the Bible).   


2 thoughts on “What Do You Do When Words Wound?

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