FIRST-PERSON: Wisdom for when to stay quiet
NASHVILLE (BP) -- We are loud people.
We might not be yelling all the time, but most of us are broadcasting almost all the time -- broadcasting statements, pictures, videos to any and all who darken the doorway of our social media accounts.
Perhaps, then, the exhortations we find in Proverbs regarding our speech are not just applicable to our literal mouths and words; perhaps they are equally applicable to all the ways we broadcast ourselves.
Take, then, what we find in Proverbs 21:23: "The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble."
Or Proverbs 13:3: "The one who guards his mouth protects his life; the one who opens his lips invites his own ruin."
There is wisdom in keeping your mouth shut. Certainly not all the time, but certainly more than most of us do. But doing so is much easier said than done. In a society of hot takes, in a world of instant opinion and reaction, and in a culture where the loudest voice seems to always win, the temptation is there to broadcast. Immediately. And loudly.
In thinking through the voice of wisdom in Proverbs, I see at least three spiritual reasons why it's a good idea to keep my mouth shut more often.
1. To serve others.
Oftentimes, my quick speech betrays my self-focus. The only way, after all, I could speak so quickly after someone else is if I've been considering my clever retort while they have been speaking instead of actually listening to them. Conversely, if I consciously made the choice to keep my mouth closed, then I would find much more intellectual energy available to truly listen and process what someone else is saying.
My silence, then, is a way I can truly serve others, for true service is more than simply doing something for someone else; it's thinking of someone as better than myself. Surely a great beginning point of that kind of service is actively choosing their words over my own.
2. To acknowledge my lack.
There is another verse in Proverbs that speaks well here: "Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent, discerning when he seals his lips" (Proverbs 17:28). My dad used to rephrase this Proverb as Abraham Lincoln did -- "Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." In other words, it's smart to keep your mouth shut because if you open it, all you're going to do is show your ignorance about a particular topic, person or issue.
But if I know this about myself -- that I am not the smartest, most clever or most wise person in the room, then keeping my mouth shut is not some kind of savvy power play. It's an actual acknowledgment on my part that I don't have anything of value to add at that moment. And that's OK. It's far better, in fact, than opening my mouth just to try and prove myself to a room full of people.
3. To embrace the Spirit's work.
One of other reasons I speak quickly is because I am uncomfortable with silence. I'm the guy that will always speak up in a room, not because I necessarily have anything of value to say, but because I'll do just about anything to avoid the awkwardness that comes from silence.
This is a problem, because it's during these pregnant silences when the Holy Spirit does good and eternal work. There are those moments when someone might be convicted of their sin. They might feel genuine sadness over a situation in their lives. They might contemplate questions of the highest order. And I might, in an effort to relieve the awkwardness of silence, stand in the way of that good and lasting soul work that needs to happen. Here, too, the wisdom of Proverbs hits home with me.
Quietness of speech, then, is not some kind of social awkwardness. Or at least it's not when that quietness has been cultivated intentionally as a part of growing as a disciple of Jesus. Instead, this quietness marks the one who is confident in Jesus and His power, and simultaneously aware of their own great deficiencies. And that is a wonderful place to be, for this is where the Gospel meets us again and again.