Monday, April 06, 2009

soul food: the words that we speak

I promised I wouldn't write about all of the details surrounding my family, but I can say that at this moment, my father is in a "rehabilitation facility."

The rehabilitation facility is connected to a nursing home and the current plan is that Dad will remain there for the next month. If after 30 days, he is able to get up on his own and show signs of self sufficiency, he may return home. If not, he will be moved directly from the rehabilitation facility in to the nursing home.

Within the next few days - or whenever I can get my thoughts together - I want to write more about what I consider to be the rapid demise of my father's health. But tonight, I am going to write about something that I have discovered I really struggle with. The art of communication.

The art of knowing what to say - when to say it - to whom - and when.

And more importantly perhaps, the art of knowing what NOT to say.

Continuing my "Soul Food" series from a few weeks ago, I wanted to write about yet another awesome church service that I attended where Proverbs were further analyzed and discussed. Interestingly enough, the topic that we heard last week was about "Guarding Your Mouth."

Or fingers, as is the case in this digital age where almost everyone has a computer and e-mail. Or if they're really crazy, a blog.

I considered it interesting, because within hours of hearing the church service, all hell broke loose in my family. And well, I didn't respond like I should have considering I just listened to a phenomenal sermon and agreed with everything that I heard.

It confuses me because Proverbs are very practical, common sense teachings. It seems extremely obvious. So why then, is it exceedingly difficult to apply these teachings every day?!

Last week, I fell head first in to the trap of responding to things that I should have just let slide. Once I heard that someone had a few negative things to say about me, I fired up my computer and I sent them an e-mail. And then, when they responded, I sent them another one. And for the most part, these e-mails were tame enough. But soon, other people were being copied on the e-mails. And later, I heard that someone on the distribution list thought that I needed to "keep my trap shut."

And guess what I started to do when I heard that?

Thankfully, I think God Himself intervened before I hit send. Because otherwise, one of my family members would have been reading an e-mail from me, littered with the "F" word.

I know that it's the little words that can make us or break us. I know that someone who might be ready to give up can receive a few words of hope and encouragement at the right moment in time and those words can absolutely transform their life. I know that there are words that hurt and there are words that heal and there are words that can create or release tension. I know that me, myself and I need to be more aware of the words that I speak.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat it's fruit. Proverbs 18:21.
  • Be SLOW
Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 29:20.

We should never speak or write (and send!) in haste. Over the past few years, I've actually become a little better with slowing down my speech. But I certainly have my moments of weakness. I'm convinced it was divine intervention, because just before I hit send on my fiery e-mail last week, my computer crashed.

In the three minutes it took to reboot my computer and contemplate my response, the steaming fury had dissipated. Yet had that e-mail gone out, it would have created irreparable damage. Much like the irreparable damage that was created in the e-mail exchange six years ago with my sister, Mary.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5.

The king said to me, "What is it you want?" Then I prayed to the God of Heaven, and I answered the king... Nehemiah 2:4.

Do you pray before or after you speak? If you find yourself in a difficult situation, you should pray first. If you speak first, you'll wind up praying second when you plead, "Oh God! Why did I say that?!"

(Thankfully, this never happens to me.)

(That's a lie.)

(When you have to put your foot in your mouth, it's nice to have mint flavored shoelaces.)
  • Be QUIET
Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive. Proverbs 17:28.

Do you know someone who talks all the time?

Someone who constantly tries to one-up you?

Someone who always has to have the spotlight?

When the minister asked if we knew anyone that fit this description, both Charlie and I nodded in agreement. We were both thinking of the same person. Someone who always talks and talks. Someone that is so lonely and has been hurt so profoundly in life, that they cover up their pain with talking and it is physically exhausting being around this person because they never ever stop talking.

And no, it's not me!

Or, William.

(Or you.)

But having this person in my life has made me realize the importance of not talking so much. It has also made me realize that everyone has a story to tell and allowing people the opportunity to speak and not finish their sentences - or cut them off - is allowing them the opportunity to express themselves. And sometimes, there is no greater gift that you can give someone than allowing them to be heard. Unfortunately, this person that Charlie and I both know seems to rob everyone of that opportunity. As a result, no one wants to be around them and their cycle of loneliness continues.

Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes in to a quarrel not their own. Proverbs 26:17.

Along the same lines of staying quiet, the minister told us that we shouldn't throw ourselves in to a conflict that isn't ours. He reminded us that we don't always have to get involved. I have no idea why I do this, but I seem to do it quite often.

Verbal wisdom is knowing when to speak and when to remain quiet. One of my coworkers has a sticker on his laptop that reads, "Before you speak, ask yourself, does it improve on the silence?"

I think that's one of the wisest things I've ever read.
Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. Proverbs 27:6.

Sometimes judgments need to be made. But if you are the one making the judgment, speak the truth and speak in love. An example that our minister gave was a missionary trip that he took with people from his church 30 years ago. He was a leader in the group and soon after boarding the plane for the 20-hour plane ride home, he was informed that he had been bumped up to first class. Gratefully, he accepted his first class seat and excitedly waved goodbye to all of his followers in coach.

Several weeks after the trip, he was approached by someone who had been on the trip, who graciously told him that he really dropped the ball as a leader by accepting the upgrade and leaving his friends, behind. It took a good friend to tell him about this flaw that he observed. And as difficult as it was for him to hear, he said that it was an excellent opportunity for self-improvement.

Like an earring of gold ... is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:12.

The fool cannot be taught and is easily offended.

Thankfully, I accept constructive criticism very well.

(That's also a lie.)

(But I'm working on it.)

(Although still not ready to get rid of comment moderation.)
A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. Proverbs 26:28.

Can people be truthful around you, or do you only want to hear good news? You can always find people who will only tell you the things that you want to hear.

The words of gossip are like choice morsels; the go down to a man's inmost parts.
Proverbs 18:8.

Sometimes, gossip may be true. But it is very seldom helpful. An example here is telling people something that will only hurt or upset them. Think about the words that you are planning to speak and ask yourself what positive can be gained?

If you call someone to tell them that someone else thinks that they are a piece of rubbish, chances are, that's not going to go down so well. So you might opt to hang on to that information because in doing so, you are taking the high road and doing your part to prevent the promulgation of verbal poison.
It is foolish to belittle one's neighbor; a sensible person keeps quiet. Proverbs 11:12.

Would it be acceptable if the person you are speaking about were to hear you?

If the answer is no, then don't say it.

One of my favorite horror stories is when my former boss called and left a message on his client's voicemail after learning that several of the projects he had been working on for a major account were being pulled. He called the project manager and left a cordial enough message asking that they return his call at their earliest opportunity. But then, when he thought that he had hit the button to hang up, he inadvertently hit the speaker phone button.

And well.

He unloaded the most hateful dialogue about his "client" that you could ever possibly imagine. There were a lot of bad words. And just when he finished ranting on and on for a solid three minutes to two other employees who had gathered in his office, he heard an automated voice from within his telephone say, "You have ten seconds remaining."

That's when he realized his entire conversation had been recorded. He jumped in his car and drove two hours north to his client's office. He begged for the recording to be deleted. But of course it wasn't. Instead, it was listened to by the project manager and several of their coworkers. Ultimately, my former boss lost the entire account and not just a handful of projects that were planning to be pulled. And then, he lost his job and his professional reputation because 12 years later, people are still talking about it.

...out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:24.

Communicating with e-mail can be dangerous because there is a lot of room for misunderstanding and words can spread so fast. You type something "in the moment" and hit send before you even have an opportunity to think about how your words might be interpreted.

Words expose the condition of our heart.

We all have room for improvement.

A soft answer turneth away wrath but a hard word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1.

Who else has a problem with escalating anger? Surely I'm not the only one? You know. Someone gets angry and then, you get angry. And whoa, you are more angry than they are. And everyone knows that whoever gets the angriest wins! My husband is a pro at toning it down. Which sometimes, drives me even more absurdly insane.

(What?? You want a PIECE OF ME?!)

(Alright. I'm working on that, too.)

The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4.

Our minister told the story of a woman who was providing customer service training to various personnel within a grocery store. She was trying to impress upon them that they needed to do something to make the customer's feel good about their shopping experience. One of the people that heard her training series was a bagger named Johnny who had Down's Syndrome.

Johnny couldn't figure out what he could do to make an impact on the customers in his store. But soon, with the help of his dad, he wrote out a "Thought for the Day", made copies, cut the copies, and stuck one "thought" in a bag for each customer. As a direct result of Johnny spreading good words, very soon, the whole environment within the grocery store began to change. Here's a link to a video I found about the story. (Whether or not you think this story about Johnny is an urban legend is beside the point.)

To summarize:

Think before you speak.

Be humble.

Be quiet.

Be teachable.

Be truthful.

Be healing.

When all else fails, pop a handful of taffy and start chewing.


  1. wonderful post!

  2. This post has some awesome suggestions. Email and the like have given us the opportunity to say things to people that we wouldn't have the nerve to say face to face. A dangerous thing, huh?

    My rule regarding "snotagram" emails is this: type it up, say what you want to say and save it to your drafts. Walk away from it for at least 12 hours (I usually try for 24). Go back and read it with a cooler head.

    If at that time you can honestly say you want to send it, ask yourself, "is this going to make the situation better or worse?".

    You can decide what to do based on that answer.

    I find that 99.9% of the time, the email never gets sent, but my goodness it can be cathartic to write it all down!

  3. Awesome post!!!!!!!! I keep these verses handy and try and remind myself of them- because I forget everyday.....and the mouth opens....

  4. I once forwarded an email to my boss about a client that said something like, "Can you believe SHE wants to do this to us again????" That was it.

    The problem was I didn't hit forward I hit reply in haste. Had I taken a few seconds to walk over to my bosses office and just say can we talk about a new challenge I have it would have saved me the ridiculous amount of embarrassment and apologizing I needed to do.

    I always think before I type now. ;)

  5. A lot of good advice in this post. One of the best things I was ever told was that when you are in an argument with someone: summarize what they're saying and match their tone. When they realize you're hearing what they're saying and the ridiculousness of the tone they're using, they tend to calm down. But again, it's easy to understand something and believe it's the correct approach. It's another to actually put it in practice.
    Good luck with everything that's going on. We're all works in progress.

  6. Last semester our bible study group studied Proverbs. Man alive that book is convicting. There are so many verses that I now know by heart and use daily. The one about a man preferring to live on the corner of the roof than with a quarrelsome wife is, um, ouch.

  7. Something I totally need to work on! Thanks for a great post.

  8. What a great topic. Unfortunatly, there is to much insulting hurt in the world. You must remember, if thoes words were directed to you, instead of the one who hurt you, it would be a different world. That Minister has hit the mark, he sounds great, keep going to church.

  9. LOVE this post!
    Sending prayers that your Dad's health improves and your family issues are resolved as best possible.

  10. Love the post - I'm usually a lurker but I read this and had to thank you! We ALL do need these lessons - and to have them written out like this is great. . I need to go to your church!

    Barb in Phx

  11. Wow ... I NEEDED this post. I have already mentally drafted the email that I was going to send to my husbands step-mother who has permanently damaged my sister-in-law. I am infuriated ... but, it's not my fight to fight. And the words I wanted to use may not be appropriate ;) And as my mother always told me, if nothing good is going to come of it, don't say it at all. But I think your post has talked me out of it ... I think ;)

  12. Okay, Where you talking about my sister???? I won't say a word!

    I just want to in the world do you remember all those verses?

    Yes! It is so easy to shoot off at "the fingers" so to speak and type venomous words not saying it all face to face. I'm sooooo very glad your computer died when it did.....Very Good Post!

  13. Your timing is amazing. Tomorrow I fly out and have no internet access for 10 days. I am visiting with my family because my mother has terminal cancer and is waiting for me to bring my kids so she can die. I do not get along with my family on a whole, mainly because they are so religious, especially my brother who is a minister and talks non stop about his church and himself, manipulating every conversation to these topics.

    Your email helped calm me down a bit. I am not looking forward to the "family dinners" because they are tense and he tries to provoke with me being the "capitalist who cares about nothing but money". When I'm on the plane tomorrow for 9 hours alone with my kids, instead of thinking of comebacks and smart replies, maybe, yes maybe, I will try to prepare my body and mind to answer with - nothing. A raised eyebrow and silence. That should drive him nuts. And it's beyond reproach. I can't say anything that will then be used against me (like last time I emailed him). THANKS

  14. WOW! is all I can say - this post is so going into my journal!

    ~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

  15. I don't consider myself particuarly religious - especially since I fell out with God 5 years ago when my Mum died far too young from Breast Cancer, but dammit - you/it/He speaks sense! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Kathryn in Jakarta.

  16. Hi Jen,

    Awesome post. I don't comment often but wanted to share a little something with you. I hope it makes you smile a little.

    My ex was very verbally abusive so I knew that yelling and screaming was not how I'd handle discipline with my girls. Besides, it's not my mode.

    My 'mode' turned out to be worse! If my girls did something that made me REALLY angry, my response was something like, "I am soooo angry that I will not talk about this right now. I will talk to you later when I calm down." Well...

    Now that those dear daughters o' mine are 19 and 21, they tell me that my silence was MUCH worse than any amount of yelling I could ever have done. Was it the right thing to do? I don't know. Here I thought that my 'silence was golden' - ha!

  17. Hi Jen,

    Long-time-every-day-lurker but seldom commenter here. The words we speak; so many good things in this post!

    My ex was very verbally abusive so I knew that yelling and screaming was not how I'd handle discipline with my girls. Besides, it's not my mode.

    My 'mode' turned out to be worse! If my girls did something that made me REALLY angry, my response was something like, "I am soooo angry that I will not talk about this right now. I will talk to you later when I calm down." Well...

    Now that those dear daughters o' mine are 19 and 21, they tell me that my silence was MUCH worse than any amount of yelling I could ever have done. Was it the right thing to do? I don't know. Here I thought that my 'silence was golden' - ha! Well, perhaps not exactly golden but, it seems, VERY effective!