“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
Though he personally owned the Big Jim Sports Camper, my husband Glen was familiar with the 1960’s Chatty Cathy doll. Little did the poor guy know he would end up marrying her one day.
I have to admit that of all the speech matters we’re going to address, “too many words” has been my besetting issue. I’ve proven the truth of today’s verse more than I would like to admit. Just like the more you drive, the higher the probability of a traffic accident, God’s word teaches that the more we talk, the higher the probability of sinning in our speech. By sheer mathematical probability, it will be difficult to be a woman of wise speech if we talk too much. More words = more error. It’s that simple.
To be really honest with you for a minute, though I have been encouraged to move in the direction of blogging for a number of years, I have avoided it until now, largely because of my respect for the truth in this verse. I’ve been terrified that if I put more words out more often, I’m going to verbally misstep and cause all sorts of trouble – but more publically this time. I’ve called these on-line, writing phenomenons, “blah-blah-blogs” for that reason. You need to know that I hit the “post” button each week in prayerful trepidation.
That’s because, when I have talked too much, I have not lacked in verbal misdemeanors:
- I’ve said inaccurate things.
- I’ve said insensitive things.
- I’ve said crude things.
- I’ve said unkind things.
- I’ve said discouraging things.
- I’ve made people feel unvalued because I’ve disregarded them by dominating conversations.
- I’ve berated my children with excessive words to the point that I have neutralized an otherwise good message.
- I’ve shared information that was not mine to share that jeopardized the sensitivity of a friend’s situation, or in another case, I stole the joy that should have been hers in sharing some good news.
Yep. No shortage of error in my many words. (For all you quiet & introverted women, you can just come along for the ride with us today and be thankful that you’ll have way less to answer for when you stand before God at the end of your life. If you’re behind me in line, just hope heaven has lawn chairs.)
So what should we wordy women do about this problem?
Our starting place for this and all our following speech matters is going to be the heart. The Bible is clear (Matthew 12:33-35) that our words originate in the heart. As Paul David Tripp beautifully puts it, “Word problems are heart problems. The people and situations around us do not make us say what we say; they are only the occasion for our hearts to reveal themselves in words.”
Trying to stop our negative speech habits by focusing only on the words themselves is like a child trying to shut off a rushing faucet by placing their hands over the tap. Momentarily effective, but ultimately messy and futile. That is what I was doing with my many words.
Though I knew I shouldn’t talk too much, I felt that hand-over-the-faucet-futility for years because I never uncovered why I was talking too much. But one day at a leadership retreat while in a group with a loving and humble man, I saw in the contrast between his speaking habits and my own, that wise and gracious communication comes from a humble heart that loves others and puts them ahead of self. This was the divine light bulb that exposed the root of my over-speaking. From that experience and my years since, I have come to conclude that most tendencies to talk too much are rooted in (sorry to have to say this)… selfishness. Allow me to explain. I’ll lump us wordy women into three types – relatives of Chatty Cathy we could say:
This was me. I was the poster child, to be exact. My habit of talking too much and not listening well to others had less to do with poor communication skills and more to do with a proud and selfish heart that preferred my own elevation and conversational enjoyment over the well-being of others. The ugly truth is: I was my favorite subject. Though I wouldn’t actually say so, by virtue of how I dominated conversations & turned them back to myself or things that interested me, I was communicating my heart belief:
- That I was cooler, funnier and more interesting than everyone else.
- That surely the events of my life would be what everyone else wants to discuss.
- That what I want to talk about is more important than what you want to talk about.
- And that you do not matter enough for me to engage you or ask about what’s going on in your life.
Unattractive and gross, I know.
Maybe we’re not proud or consider ourselves God’s gift to everyone around us, but if we still talk a lot, I’d like to suggest that this tendency could be rooted in other forms of self-focus: insecurity, fear of man or people pleasing. If this is us, we can chatter on, too afraid of people to be concerned about them. Too preoccupied with their estimation of us, we don’t inquire about their life and well-being or allow them to be honoured or the focus of a conversation. To make sure others think highly of us, we will take anyone’s story and relate it to something similar or better in our own experience. Or we will interrupt and barge into every conversation in hopes of displaying our vast wisdom and quick wit. Or we will simply continue talking to stake our relational claim and feed off the sense of belonging our verbal involvement gives us.
Not as gross, but still yucky. And sadly counter-productive.
And then there are some sweet women plagued by neither pride nor insecurity but who simply are not considerate of their audience. If this is us, it means we rattle on about subjects & details that do nothing to interest or edify our listeners. We don’t necessarily sin against people or offend them, but they won’t seek us out for friendship or wisdom and instead, may actually avoid us in fear that they’ll be sucked into the vortex of unending, bland words that they can’t get out of.
Not offensive. But an unfortunate waste of opportunity.
Though these tendencies are certainly varied in their repugnance, they all have at their root, a disregard for others and a failure to see words as tools created to love and edify. When we can identify the selfish root of our many words and begin to seek God’s help to transform our hearts, we have hope of change and can actually benefit from applying the biblical wisdom on speech that is available to us.
So quickly, here are my favorite helps that I had much more success in employing once I unearthed the root cause of my many words:
- I now ask myself, “Are people going to be better off in some way for hearing this?” If I don’t think they will, I don’t bother saying it.
- I try to let others choose the direction of the conversation most of the time, even if it doesn’t always interest me. I might find it boring, but I sin less, so it’s a decent trade-off in my mind.
- I remind myself that wise people are comfortable being silent and those who babble on with no desire to understand others but simply express their own opinions, are people that the Bible would label as fools. (Prov. 10:19, 18:2) I don’t want to be that.
- I have posted around my house and memorized many of the verses on speech from Proverbs. In time, they have become a part of my thought process as the Lord graciously brings them to mind when I need them.
- I seek not to be interesting, but interested. I learned that phrase from a youth pastor I was privileged to work with as a young adult. It helps keep my pride in check and reminds me to be others-focused.
- I work to ask more questions. That makes the other person feel valued, gives me a peek into their life, gives me more wisdom to love and engage them in the future and it occupies me with listening which helps keep my word count down.
- I try very hard to never interrupt. And if I happen to speak at the same time as someone else, I defer to them instead of forcing the verbal right-of-way like I used to.
- I try not to weigh in on subjects that I don’t really have particular insight on. If my opinion is informed only by random conversations or what I read on Facebook and is really not going to educate anyone, I don’t bother participating. I don’t need to add value-less words to the ample supply that already litters our conversational landscape.
- And as my wise mother has often encouraged me to do; I pray the words of Psalm 141:3 going into certain circumstances: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Friend, regardless of which of our “wordy women” you identify with, that doesn’t have to be you forever. This week, take up the challenge to employ fewer words with an “others-focus” and tell me how it goes. I’d love to hear.