“In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” (King James Version of Proverbs 10:19)
“The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.”
(The Message, Proverbs 10:19)
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
(English Standard Version of Proverbs 10:19)
Sitting in a public spot early this morning I had a few extra moments before getting out to drive the school bus (yeah, that is 1 of the 4 or 5 jobs I have). I try to redeem the time when waiting and for me the best way to do that is to read. I broke out my phone and opened my pocket Bible app which if you don’t have one I suggest Laridian, I’ve used it for years and its cool. But I couldn’t read it. I read the same line 5-6 times and still could not get it going. The problem? The morning coffee klatch that is always going on in this place. Same three people. Same volume of words. Words, words, words, words. A flood of words. Not especially loud and certainly not offensive in nature; just a multitude of words that washed over me drowning out all coherent thought. I considered moving to another part of the lobby, but realized it was not far enough away. You know how it feels when you weren’t paying attention to some sound but your mind gets locked in somehow and you can’t help hearing it? The dripping faucet in the night. The irregular banging of a hammer on the construction site near work. But to me there is nothing so distracting as an endless drone of words.
I’ve quoted the verse from Proverbs about this so much over the years it immediately came to mind this morning. A bunch of words means a bunch of room for error. The more we talk the more we open ourselves up to saying something we should not say. Words are weapons. Some are so sharp just a touch opens up a serious wound. Others are barbed fish hooks. Once they puncture a hearer they will not come back out easily. There are double-edged words that cut both speaker and hearer, and cudgel words that smash people. And some words are quicksand pulling us in and choking out all air and light.
I have a conceal carry permit for a gun, although I rarely carry. In fact I’ve only carried my .38 revolver once, and even when I did I kept the rounds in one pocket and the gun in another (gun enthusiasts please don’t write and tell me how stupid I am). I did it because I am very aware of the damage I can do with a gun and I was being extra cautious. The first time carrying a gun in public I was more comfortable knowing there was an extra step between me and using it. I am no where as cautious with my words in public or in private. I generally shoot first and ask questions later. I make a lot of mistakes. It has taken me years to slow down the words I use with my friends, my coworkers, my kids, my wife. I swear it feels like a balloon blowing up inside my chest sometimes when I want to spew words back out over a person. I can hardly keep it in. But I’ve learned to do better.
How about you? How careful are you with the words you let out of your mouth? Try an experiment the next time you are with a few people. See if you can just listen. See if you MUST speak. Don’t be rude. Answer any questions directed your way, but attempt to throw the talking back to someone else and try to steer away from giving your opinion, your achievement, your advice, your feelings. Just. Listen. Warning: this is very hard. Another exercise: when you are with a group of people and engaging in conversation, do not speak about a person who is not present unless you would say the same exact thing in their presence. Do not contribute to a conversation that tears down another person with jagged edge words. Warning: you may not think this is hard, but if you really are keeping away from talking about others in a disparaging way, you will notice at first you don’t have much to talk about. No kidding. The first time I did this I was shocked at how much my words are devoted to dismantling other human beings.
Once you get a feel for using fewer words and for using less damaging words, you will agree with the Proverb. You will see how hard it is to control your words and how many opportunities there are to do damage with them. All your relationships will benefit from cutting down on your words and practicing restraint with the words you do use. You know what I think when I see someone who can’t stop talking? Who floods the phone or the lobby with words? I think they must not be heard. No one is listening to them, or that is their self perception. When I hear a person who uses weaponized words I think this person must be trying to get higher by making others lower. I can tell both of them the truth in a few words. The truth is that they (we) have the ear of God. God listens. Your boss may not hear you or your teenager may ignore you, or your spouse may talk over you, but you are heard by God. Let that sink into your heart and the urgency to make people hear you will diminish. It will give you peace. Your heart is heard and understood by the most important being in the cosmos. The truth is also that God makes much of us. He elevates us. You could tear down all the people in the world and never get a higher reputation. You could shrink down every person who ever lived and not get the place God gives to you. That will put out the fire in your heart and words. It will make you reconsider just what you hope to gain by ripping and tearing at people when it gets you no where compared to where God takes you. And it will humble you to see that God uses good words about you; “son,” “daughter,” “faithful,” “beloved.” This is our power to use fewer, better words; God’s ear and God’s opinion both revealed in Jesus. And this power over words is the power to change more than just our patterns of speech, it is the power to change our marriages, our communities and our world.