Confession time: I am a chronic “foot in mouther”. Sometimes, more than I’d care to admit, I smack myself in the head for the words that seemingly fall out of my mouth. It’s not that I am saying something offensive or distasteful; I just seem to have a tendency to just let the thoughts swirling in my head fall right out of my mouth. Occasionally, they are thoughts that would have been better of kept in the vault, or at least said in different circumstances. I’ve also been known to NOT speak up when I should.
Do you relate? Do you sound like me, or do you know someone who does?
The struggle is very real, for people like me. The bible says to speak truth in love, but it also tells us to tame our tongues. How do we find that balance, of knowing when to speak and when not to? And, when it is time to speak up… how do we say it in a way that is appropriate?
As a child, I was taught to speak the truth. When people would ask my opinions of things, I didn’t hold back.
It was in middle school, when my friend asked me if I liked her new hair cut, that I would tell her that it made her look like a stalk of blonde broccoli.
In high school, I told the boy who had just met my mother EXACTLY what she thought of him.
In college, when a friend lamented about people were talking about her behind her back, I politely told her that she was providing them with plenty of ammunition and should rethink her decisions.
Over time, I learned to soften the blow on the superficial things.
“I really like the other shirt better.”
“That is an interesting color, what made you pick it?”
But, I still manage to “insert foot in mouth”. Some times, I open my mouth on subjects where I have no reason to even be involved.
When serving on a ministry team, we were preparing for an event, and I got caught in a triangle. One of the Pastors didn’t necessarily agree with how the event was being planned. He came to me to ask my opinion, which I gave. Yet, I wasn’t on that committee. I ended up getting a phone call from the coordinator, totally caught off guard, who was very upset. This was a situation where I really should have kept my opinions to myself, it wasn’t my job. I wasn’t on the committee. At the same time, what I should have done was directed him to share his concerns with her directly. After all, as the Pastor overseeing the ministry, he certainly had the authority to speak to her on the issue & make changes to the event if he felt it was necessary. It was his job, just not my place to be involved. She was very upset with me for getting involved, and rightfully so. And, to be entirely honest, it has affected our relationship when working together on ministry projects.
Other times, I neglect to speak up when I should.
There was as situation with a close friend, where her behavior was out of line. Instead of calling her out on it gently, when it started, I stayed quiet. I knew she was a fragile person, and I thought I could just stuff my feelings. It was easier to be a peacemaker, right? WRONG. Instead, because I didn’t speak up in the beginning… I stuffed… and stuffed…. and stuffed. Then I blew up. It was more than I could take, and something had to be said. Unfortunately, by blowing up like I did, there was more damage done than if I had spoken up from the very beginning.
We need discernment about the things we say: what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. We also need discernment to tame our tongues. The only way we get this discernment is by seeking God’s wisdom. The scriptures tell us exactly how to speak in love, when to tame our tongues, and the scriptures we can use to filter our thoughts through.
I recently received a copy of Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman from Family Christian. Let’s be real, I needed this book in my life. And, interestingly enough, I’m not alone. This is a problem we will all face at one time or another, some of us more frequently than we should. HA. Even when we learn to tame our tongue, it can still happen… we say that thing, we simply can’t take back.
Things we say to our kids. Our husbands. Our coworkers and friends. Those we serve with in ministry. Even complete strangers.
Keep It Shut is a book that focuses on what to say, how to say it and when to say nothing at all. It is a funny book, that is really open and honest about those things that plague us in our every day lives. I also appreciate that Karen Ehman doesn’t lump everyone in to a single category, but recognizes that different people will require different approaches. Keep It Shut also address our digital tongue, which has the potential to do even more damage.
Digital tongue is how we speak through email, text messages, and social media. These dialogues can be harder to decode emotion and intention because you can’t see the people you are speaking to. You may not even realize how offensive your statements sound, because in your head they seem innocent enough. Or, as a reader, you may not realize a person is telling a joke or sincere.
The digital tongue is something still fairly new, but has become a primary way to communicate with people. We have to learn to use it correctly, and to remember that nothing replaces real life conversations… where sound communicates more than the written word.
Keep It Shut doesn’t neglect to hit the topics that may sting a bit, like gossiping (especially under the guise of a prayer request) or when we speak in hate as a response to being hurt. There is a biblical approach to the advice and guidance from the book, that helps us not only keep control over our words but understanding why it is important to do so. Complete with examples from the scriptures of people who were put into positions where their words had great power over the outcome of their life and others.
Just as any good book should, Keep It Shut concludes with a reminder that we can use our words in good, positive, God honoring ways and leaves us with some tips and verses we can reference in the future. I really like the last pages of the book that have speaking prompts that you can copy or print out & place in visible areas as reminders. These can be placed next to your computer or home phone, or even create a cute background photo for your phone that you’ll see before answering every call or text.
Here are a few great quotes from the book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
“Before I engage my lips, I must know with absolute certainty that what I am saying is true. If I know for sure that something is not the truth, I need to be quiet. If I have a strong hunch that something is not the truth, I need to be quiet. If I have even the slightest doubt that something might not be true, I need to be quiet. But just because something is true does not mean I always need to say it. Motives and manners matter.”
“Do your words online add value to the conversation at hand?”
“My daughter simply vocalized a truth she noticed in my life: I tend to lose my cool with my family, but somehow manage to keep calm when I interact with others.”
“Do I open my mouth with wisdom, or do I just open my mouth, spewing out whatever is bubbling up in my angry heart?”