Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Keep It Shut

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” – Psalm 19:14

I’ve always known I talked too much. It’s an embarrassing fact. My parents have told me. My sister too. Even my husband, patient as he is (and a very good listener), will occasionally have to stop me and remind me that he too has a time schedule to keep, and that listening to a play-by-play of my day is taking up a bit too much of it.

What I don’t always recognize, though, is that it’s not just the quantity of words that may be the turnoff for people. It’s the quality. Ouch! Yes, it hurts even to say it to myself, but it’s true. I need a filter on my words.

I can be quick to judge people on what comes out of their mouths. I can only take a limited amount of profanity before I’ll walk away or turn off a movie. And when I hear the Lord’s name taken in vain, it may as well be fingernails on a chalkboard. Drives. Me. Crazy!

But what about what I say? What is it that comes out of my mouth that makes people walk away from me?

This past week, I was making the rounds of reading my favorite blogger posts and kept running into an ad for a book written by Christian author and speaker Karen Ehman. It’s called Keep It Shut. I would love to say I’ve read it, especially since she and I are connected via a writers group, but alas, I just discovered it. I wish I had sooner. Subtitled What to say, how to say it, and when to say nothing at all, I clearly need this book! For there’s no one who has a bigger case of Foot-in-Mouth disease than I do.

As I saw this message “Keep It Shut” over and over again, I became more and more convicted about my problem. Earlier in the week, the anniversary of the loss of my father coincided with another event, which led to me revisiting a past hurt. Unable to just casually shake it off, I wrote about my hurt feelings and posted it online. A few of my friends who read it consoled me, and I felt better. Until yesterday. When I saw that I had done the very same thing to someone else, went to apologize to her, and she graciously brushed it away as no big deal. “It happens,” she said. Ugh. Yes, it does. But it took me and my big mouth to make it into a monumental big deal. Online. For everyone to see.

For all I love to talk about grace, the words I had written spoke of a heart sorely lacking in it. 

Self-pity had gotten the best of me, and if that weren’t bad enough, I had to talk about it. Not a pretty sight, in others’ eyes or in the Lord’s. I immediately hid my post from my timeline, but it was like taking an eraser to a manuscript written in pen. The imprint was there, in my mind and in the minds of everyone else who had read it.

Spoken or written, words are something we may try and take back, but the damage has already been done. That is why the Bible is full of cautionary notes about watching what we say, even going so far as to call the tongue “evil.”

“Do you see a man hasty with his words? There is more help for a fool than for him.” – Proverbs 29:20

Yes, there is no doubt, when it comes to what we say sometimes, we are often worse off than fools. Have you ever considered the impact of your careless words? Mine have cost me a lot. Friendships. Relationships. A promotion. Even a job.

Sometimes our faux pas are innocent blunders, rooted in all the right intentions. How many times have I tried to “be there” for someone else, attempting to show empathy by sharing my own story, only to come across as it being all about me? Or I excitedly call to share my happy news about a new job, only to learn – after I get through telling them all about it – that the person on the other end of the phone has just lost theirs.

Oh, to remember that God gave me two ears and one mouth, and to use them in that order!

There’s a reason personal success coach and author Stephen Covey included “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” as one of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. We need to listen before speaking, so we can gauge the appropriateness of what we want to say.

At other times, however, it’s not my ears that need engaging: it’s my brain. Specifically, the part that says STOP!

If I would engage my brain before opening my mouth or sharing online, I might actually remember to ask these pertinent questions: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it helpful? I’ll add in one other question too: Is it necessary? Keeping that one little question in mind before I open my mouth would save me a whole lot of trouble, online and off! Does everyone really need my opinion? Probably not. And as for fixing sticky situations that perhaps my initial wrong word got me in to begin with, over-explaining and belated apologies have never served me well. Sometimes it’s best to just leave things alone.

Coming from a family of talkers, the idea of not saying anything is a foreign concept, but an important one to learn.

A great piece of advice, one frequently taught to children, is a quote by Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It was originally meant to dampen that brutal honesty young children have, when they blurt out their opinions without any thought about the feelings of others. You know the scenario. “You look fat in that dress, Mommy!” your child says as you’re walking out the door. As your confidence plummets, you wish she had just said nothing at all.

What if you applied that same Charlie Brown rule to the way you speak to your spouse, your coworkers, or even the cashier at the supermarket? And how about applying it to how to talk to yourself?

Have you ever noticed the pairing of “mouth” and “heart” in the Bible? Psalm 19:14 says “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD…”  Beyond the occasional blunder, our words often reflect the condition of our hearts. That means the only real cure for Foot-in-Mouth disease is a heart transplant. Fortunately for us, that’s the business God’s into, as our Great Physician and Healer.
Tweet: The only real cure for Foot-in-Mouth disease is a heart transplant. @lindawperkins

The only real cure for Foot-in-Mouth disease is a heart transplant

Jesus said all of God’s commandments could be summarized into two: love God and love others. It is in this light that we must examine our words. In loving God, do we complain and whine about our lot in life, or do our words show gratitude and honor to Him? In loving others, do our words criticize and cut down, or are we kind and respectful, waiting to hear what is on their hearts before sharing ours?

It may take time, but I’m ready to shed my Foot-in-Mouth disease. With much prayer and God’s help, perhaps one day my words will come out right. In the meantime, I will remember “When in doubt, keep it shut!”

How do you struggle with your mouth? Gossip, unkind words, boasting or complaining? Ask the Lord to show you where your heart struggle – pride, insecurity, unforgiveness, self-pity or ingratitude – may be showing through. 

Keep It Shut originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Today I am linking up with:

Intentionally Pursuing Intentional Tuesday

Holly Barrett

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