Sunday, 8 May 2011

Knowing when to keep my mouth shut

I talk a lot. Or at least, I think I talk a lot.  I usually have something that I want to say, and the likelihood of me saying it pretty much depends on the level of comfort I feel in any given situation.  For example, at a governors' meeting at school I am quiet.  Silent, I would say.  Whereas at home group I can hold forth with the best of them.  I like talking. I like expressing myself. I like discussing. I like debating. I like sharing and confiding and encouraging and joking and telling stories and anecdotes.  It has occurred to me more than once in my life that should there come a day at the end of my life when it turns out that we were all allocated only so many words to last us a lifetime, then at the rate I'm using them up then the last few years on earth are going to be pretty quiet ones. 

So, the first thing that this confession brings to mind is that I probably talk when I should be listening. I think this is certainly the case when I'm thinking about you, Lord.  I can witter on, whether I'm complaining or praising, reflecting or sobbing, and then as soon as I'm done there I am, gone. I wonder if sometimes you're just about to open your mouth with a reply and I'm away and I miss it. This is definitely on my list to work on.

The second thing that's got me thinking about it all is in connection with my Ninth Commandment revelation. The less I say, the less likely I am to make a mess. 

'When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise'. Proverbs 10:19

So there was my idea, only expressed quite a while ago and by someone who knew more than I do. 

Here's Bill Hybels again:

Are we serious about truth-telling? Then let's talk in practical terms. You want to sin less with your words? Then talk less. 
The less I talk, the less I exaggerate. The less I talk, the less I say things I regret. The less I talk, the fewer promises I make that I can't keep.'

So I imagine that some people might struggle more with this than others. Don't think I can't hear you chuckling. 

While I know intellectually that not everyone needs to hear my opinion, in practice that's not necessarily in the forefront of my mind when I feel like offering it. The urge to give my three penneth is sometimes overwhelming. Actually, rarely is it overwhelming because I've usually given into it before it gets a chance to overwhelm me.  Why do we always want to be heard? Is it some innate and deep seated fear of being overlooked?  Or are we always looking for the approval that comes when you are agreed with, or the boost to the self esteem that we get when someone is interested in what we say?  Because for me, having something to say and not saying it is quite hard. 

So I need a few things from you, please. I need more wisdom, to know when to speak and when to shut up. I need wisdom to separate the stuff that I should say, that's helpful and positive and useful from the stuff that I sometimes feel an equally strong urge to share with folks that's unhelpful and negative and wrong.  I need discernment to try to work out the difference before it's too late. Sometimes it's obvious - critical things, whingy things, mean things, sarcastic things, gossipy things - these all wave red flags at me and I quite often choose not to see them and go ploughing ahead anyway, but it's the times when I reflect on a conversation that I've already had and I realise the implications of something I said and I spend the next few hours/days/weeks cringing and wishing I'd kept my trap shut.  You know what I mean, Lord, because I usually come running to you at this point. If I'm not too embarrassed.

Then there are times when I have no idea what the implications might be of what I'm saying. It might be meant with the best of intentions but I am speaking into a situation that I don't understand and yet keep on talking.  I don't want to do damage with my words, well intentioned or not. So wisdom and discernment please. 

Back to the shopping list. Tact.  Diplomacy. Sensitivity. For those occasions when a white lie would normally come tripping out. A wise person advised me today that when you resolve to be truthful even when lying might be easier, then these situations become less regular. I hope so, because thinking on my feet is going to become an issue. There are so many times when it seems tactful to bend the truth, or to just slip away from it rather than say what is true. I can't believe that to be honest means stalking through life leaving a trail of hurt feelings and offended souls right and left, so help required here too, please. 

Oh, and self control. I'm going to need rather a lot, please.  A lot more than I've got already. 

'For the heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.' 
Proverbs 15:28

That doesn't pull it's punches much, does it?  

So teach me to weigh my answers and not to gush, please.  To think, and to listen, and to think more, and talk less.

And if I can master it it might mean that I don't run out of words before I've said everything I need to say.

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