My phone rang with a FaceTime notification and within seconds, I was staring at the faces of two dear friends. One woman had just hung up from an unexpected phone call that provided clarity and also included quite a few careless words. She processed, we listened, and after a while she said:
“Kaitlyn, you’ve been quiet but I can tell something is on your mind. What do you think?”
I hesitated for a moment, wondering just how crazy the answer would sound, but I know these friends and they know me, so I took a deep breath before saying the strange six-word sentence that was in my mind.
“I don’t think I’ve ever said this before,” I began, “but the more you share what was said to you, the more this phrase keeps crossing my mind. Maybe it’s somehow that you need to hear? I don’t know. Anyway, it’s this: You are not a trash can. You can choose to hold the garbage words that were spoken over you and to you — if you want. But also, you do not have to. They were not kind, they were not truthful, and you do not have to hold them.”
I watched the screen and waited. She wiped tears away and then, with a laugh, said I needed to write it out and tell other people, too. We smiled, three friends separated by distance but connected through a screen and the weekly sharing of stories small and ordinary, unexpected and difficult, hopeful and heartbreaking, and everything in between.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit: Community is complicated and messy. It can cut us to the core, making it difficult to trust again, whispering the lie that it’s just not worth the trouble and we’ll be fine on our own. This is a script I know well, a wound I’m intimately familiar with; and based on the not-at-all scientific research I recently did via Instagram, I’m not the only one who struggles with this lie. The responses I got on Instagram were heartbreaking and yet not surprising, echoing years of conversations with friends and also the soundtrack within my own mind.
Many years ago, a trusted friend spoke a single sentence that I’m still intentionally working to untangle and shake off over a decade later. They labeled me unfairly, I accepted the garbage words as truth, and the soundtrack began to play.
“Can you easily remember something specific that was spoken to you a long time ago, whether it be kind or unkind, and do you still frequently think of it today?” I asked on Instagram. 96% said yes. In a follow-up question, the vast majority said the word or phrase that often comes to mind was first spoken over a decade ago.
When I asked, “Is it fair to say someone else’s words repeat like a soundtrack that kept playing long after the conversation ended or the passing remark was made?” 99% answered in the affirmative, saying, “Yes, and it impacts how I show up in the world.”
This would be a wonderful thing — if the script stuck on repeat were loving and thoughtful. Sadly, almost everyone said the words they remember were hurtful and unkind. While it’s a small sampling of a few hundred people, I have a hunch this is true far and wide. We carry careless words with us, often without recognizing that we’ve internalized the script, a quiet hum of “you’re too ___” or “you’re not ___” or “if only you were ___” becoming background noise.
I can’t tell you exactly where the “stop” button is for the soundtrack, but perhaps the first step is to recognize the tune and ask the Lord what is true. You can trust Him to be gentle, kind, and “most careful” with you (Matthew 11:29, 1 Peter 5:7).
I’ve heard this particular script for over a decade, but God is using the very thing that wounded me — words from a friend — to bring about healing. It’s imperfect, to be sure. My friends and I get it wrong sometimes. But through FaceTime calls and patient listening, evening walks and caring questions, sharing regular life and offering kind words, I’ve seen God’s redemption at work.
Our words hold weight. They can wound or encourage, tear down or build up. May we, as Holley Gerth so beautifully says, be friends who only speak words that make souls stronger. May we hold onto the good and kind, as well as the needed and helpful, while recognizing the garbage that isn’t ours to hold. May we not only think but also speak what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
I’m sorry if someone’s words hurt you this week. Words can wound, intentional or not. But I want you to know — you don’t have to hold onto every single one. It’s not as easy as tying a bow and tossing out the trash, I know. But maybe today you call a friend or two and let them speak what is actually true. Maybe you laugh and cry. Maybe someone will say a strange, unexpected six-word sentence. Maybe you declare it to be trash day, mentally setting the can at the curb. Who knows, but I’ll say it through a screen again, this time to you. I promise it’s true:
You are not a trash can.
You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.
P.S. We aren’t to ignore or run from conflict—it’s part of being a community. But healthy conflict and helpful correction are not the same as criticism or condemnation.
We don’t often talk about friendship breakups or the wounds that can come from the words of a friend, but if you’ve experienced either, know that you aren’t alone. Chapters 3 and 4 of Kaitlyn’s book Even If Not speak directly to this, offering hope in the heartbreak.
Totally blessed from the inside out by today’s devotional. I am not a trash can. People nor words they speak realize the impact they have on one’s life. I guess that’s why I chose to write years ago as a child. Expressing how I felt, this outlet has become the catapult of purpose. Thank you again for sharing! God bless you!
Ruth Mills says
Dearest Lord may my words today only be those that encourage & build up. Keep me from slinging any trash at anyone I encounter today. And give me discernment that I not accept any trash possibly flung my way. Enable me to discern truth. If a negative is true help me submit it to You & grow in Christ-likeness. If it is false enable me to discard it to the landfill. What powerful encouragement you have shared today, Kaitlyn. Bless you!
Kaitlyn Bouchillon says
Amen and amen. Thank you for sharing this prayer, Ruth. I can see others here in the comments also appreciated it!
Wow, such memories that popped up reading this. But I AM NOT A TRASH CAN! Thank you. I need to remember to how our words can have long lasting effects. It is so easy to blurt things out before thinking.
Kaitlyn Bouchillon says
Sure can be… so grateful God is full of mercy and grace. And also so grateful that He’s in the business of speaking Truth, helping us recognize and replace words that don’t belong.
Thank you Kaitlyn for this and thank you Ruth for your prayer. It is one I need to pray each and every day!
I was deeply wounded by words in my childhood and again in my marriage. After my divorce I promised – myself – I would never again walk that road. Thirteen years later, it was me who said the unkind things to the person I love. the most. I still can’t believe the words I spoke over our relationship. I know how much words matter! I fell short. I am praying daily for forgiveness and restoration.
Kaitlyn Bouchillon says
Oh man, yes. I wrote a post a while back about how I can be my own bully, thinking words about myself I’d never utter to a friend. Here’s to learning to speak to ourselves as we would to a friend + and speaking words of life to those around us!
Thank you for sharing this. Also I thank Ruth for that beautiful transparent prayer that I will also commit to pray for myself. I’m not a trash can, nor do I want to CARRY the trash can!!!!
Julie A says
This reminds me of a line of lyrics in the hymn “The Summons” — “Does your life attract or scare? ” It really does make you think about words you say and words that have hurt.
Amy Garber says
This is so encouraging! And I feel sure your small research return would be echoed in any larger query. It’s so hard to hear God‘s voice when we have one of these soundtracks playing. Thank you for putting it into terms that are so easily related to. You are a gift! Thank you!
Kaitlyn Bouchillon says
Aww, thanks Amy! I actually messaged our editor saying “I don’t know if this makes sense!” when I turned it in, so it really is a gift to read “putting it into terms that are so easily related to.” You brought a smile to my face today. 🙂
Karen Purkey says
We live in a 55 and older independent living community.
We have lived here three and a half years. Most people speak
kindly and encourage one another. However, there are a few people who say unkind and even harsh words to others. I see the
destruction they leave in others lives. May I continue to speak words of love and joy. Thank you for your words today. Friendships are to be cherished and not abused.,
Ariel Krienke says
Such an encouraging thoughts and message. Thank you. May God show us all how much he truly loves us.
‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight my God and my King ‘
Great verse to memorize.
I pray healing for you all….me included.
Marinalva Sickler says
Thank you. Your message brought me some tears.
Beth Williams says
Thank for this “you are not a trash can!!” AMEN & AMEN. The children’s song “sticks && stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt” is a lie. Words can cut deep wounds. Thankfully God has made me an encourager. I use my words to build people up daily. Thanking my co-workers-even EVS (trash/cleaners) for doing their job. We already have enough hatred, & disunity. Wanting to spread more of God’s light & love down here.