Monday, October 13, 2014

What to Say, When to Say It, When to Shut Up

My French instructor at Ohio State once told me, diplomatically, that I was "loquacious." That was his kind way of saying that I needed to shut up and listen during class. I always appreciated the graciousness with which he phrased his criticism.

"Running off the head," as my friends in northwest Ohio style it, has long been one of my deficiencies, though I hope through the years, that I've learned to listen more. This ability--the ability to speak less and listen more, to speak the right word at the right time and nothing more or less--is an especially important attribute for a pastor. After all, we are allowed to "hold forth" for twenty minutes every week when we preach and to do so also for long stretches if we teach classes, as I do. It's only fair to give others more than equal time when we encounter them in hospitals, nursing homes, the grocery store, church hallways, at sporting events, during shared meals, or at the park during other times of the week.

Listening and knowing when to speak the right words are skills some people possess by inclination or patient application or both. I envy them. More than a few of my friends are "naturals" in these ways.

For others of us, those two abilities, if they ever come to us at all, are gifts of the Holy Spirit, acquired by experience, prayer, repentance, and renewal.

I'm not inclined to be silent and when I was younger, I sometimes set off bombardments of words when I was nervous, scared, or ignorant of what to say. It was as though I was trying to build a fortress of words that wouldn't allow the things I feared to touch me. Or, I confess, I wanted to show others how knowledgeable and informed I was.

Not a good strategy for either end.

And not particularly conducive to building relationships or to helping people who could use a listening ear more than they need word bombs. This is why I often pray, "Lord, give me the right words and the right silences."

I still can get in God's way, saying things I shouldn't, neglecting to say words that might be helpful, or forgetting to simply listen. But now, I usually know it when I do so. (More often than I like, this knowledge comes after the fact. But at least now I do see it.) The connection between my brain and my mouth is getting a bit stronger, though not as strong as I want it to be.

In today's installment of Our Daily Bread, based on Solomon's book of Proverbs, there are thoughts on saying the right things at the right times by being attentive to the promptings of God's Spirit. It's worth reading.

I especially like this part:
The Bible says that there is an appropriate time to speak (Eccl. 3:7). Solomon compared properly timed and well-spoken words with golden apples in a silver setting—beautiful, valuable, and carefully crafted (Prov. 25:11-12). Knowing the right time to speak is beneficial for both the speaker and hearer, whether they are words of love, encouragement, or rebuke. Keeping silent also has its place and time. When tempted to deride, belittle, or slander a neighbor, Solomon said that it is wise to hold our tongue, recognizing the appropriate time for silence (11:12-13). When talkativeness or anger tempts us to sin against God or another human being, resistance comes by being slow to speak (10:19; James 1:19).
That passage from James is particularly important for me to remember, I think:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...
Lord, have mercy. 


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