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Have you ever been caught off guard, slapped in the face, by someone’s judgmental words? Their sharp opinion can take only seconds to unleash but if we’re not careful, the wounds of their words can last for years. As the school year starts for many, I’m reminded of a time a teacher stung me with her biting words. Despite being more than 20 years, I still remember the words of my senior year writing teacher as though it were yesterday.

Oh I admit, her class was far from my favorite. I had no desire to write about topics that I didn’t pick. And, her approach to writing just didn’t seem to mesh with my own. Together those two factors yielded my less than inspiring, barely adequate approach to the mandatory core course.

I knew I needed to try harder because my final grade depended upon it. With the last large research paper due date drawing closer, I dug deep, and found my inner writer’s voice. I spent countless hours in the local university’s library, lost in the stacks completing extensive research on the Bubonic Plague. It was all worth it in the end because I knew that the paper I handed in was absolutely my best work.

Several days later, knowing we’d be getting our papers back, I anxiously slipped into my desk. A few minutes later, my teacher began returning our research papers. Pausing by my desk, she looked at my paper still in her hands atop a pile then looked at me. “This is a brilliantly written paper. The research supporting it is well done,” she paused and looked at me with a cold stare. “That made grading it all the harder. I want to say it’s an ‘A’ paper, but I don’t believe you wrote this.”

Her words hung in the air as she paused again.  I immediately froze in that moment. I can still repaint every detail of that room.  The small desks, the dusty chalk board, and the clock loudly clicking its steady rhythm on the wall nearby, my heart shattered in a million pieces on the floor by an accusation I couldn’t comprehend. “If I could have found proof, I would have given you an ‘F’” she continued. “You have proven that you can’t write. You shouldn’t write. You should never write.” And then as though there was one lingering thought on the tip of her tongue, she paused before she closed her mouth tightly, placing my paper with the giant B+ before me. She abruptly turned and continued passing out papers.

A whirlwind of responses flooded my mind. I could have been happy with a B+ with “well written” noted beneath it.  Instead my teacher’s harsh accusatory comments cut me to the core. Didn’t she know how hard I had worked? Her words stuck with me long after graduation’s Pomp and Circumstance faded. “You should never write,” lingered in the recesses of my mind. Her critical words limited me for years. I loathed English in college because of that experience. I also believed that I couldn’t write well.

With time, I’ve also found that I’m not alone. The “you’ll never” or “you should never” followed by any number of condemning ends to those sentences haunt many people in life. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “You’ll never be successful.” Or something as specific as “You should never write.” They are powerfully flippant remarks that steal our dreams, rob us of our potential and paralyze us from pursuing our purpose.

Discouragement can come from teachers, friends, and sometimes most hurtfully from those closest to us, our families. But, God doesn’t need their approval to be successful with His plan for our lives! Are you weighed down by “you can’t” or “you’ll never” that keep you from pursing life or from God’s purpose for you? When one of those statements haunts you, replace it with “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 Ask God for the strength to boldly step beyond the hurtful words of others, freeing you to pursue your dreams.  A few things you can do with the “you’ll nevers”:

  1. Recognize them. Notice when and where negative comments show up in your life is the first step in getting rid of them once and for all.
  2. When you catch yourself telling yourself one of those statements, stop, pray for strength in letting go of the statement, and remind yourself of Philippians 4:13.
  3. Replace the negative words with constructive positive words that help you grow rather than hold you back.
  4. Take one step each week towards pursuing your passion and purpose. Building momentum in the direction of your dream will help erase the “you’ll nevers” replacing them with proof that you can.

Currently I’m working on my second book. I’ve been blessed to watch how my first book, A Search for Purple Cows has impacted so many people. I’m thankful that I let go of the unkind words that previously haunted me.  Now it’s your turn. Has someone discouraged you? Replace their hurtful words with God’s purpose for you. Don’t allow the pain from their words to determine the steps you take towards your future. Unsure where to start? Ask God. He has a plan for you!

Have you experienced something similar? Or, do you have a good tip for letting go of hurtful words? I’d love to hear from you!