Confessions of a (Recovering) Motormouth
Motormouth. Chatterbox. Windbag. Call me what you will, but for most of my life, I was an incessant talker. Once, my uncle, who'd apparently listened to 10-year-old Becky babble long enough, snapped, "Don't you ever shut up?" To which I replied, "But I have a lot to say."
It was when I began pursuing spiritual growth in my mid-30s that I started to experience word hangovers. The morning after a meeting or Bible study, my head throbbed with the sound of my voice. I'd hogged the conversation. I felt ashamed and wondered, Can't I ever shut up?
God gave me a love for words—both written and spoken—for a reason. His reason. He made me enthusiastic for a purpose. His purpose. I'm not supposed to share every idea, opinion, or thought that pops into my head. Unwittingly, I'd launched into what John Ortberg calls a "shadow mission."
In Overcoming Your Shadow Mission, Ortberg writes, "A mission is the highest purpose to which God calls us; a shadow mission is an authentic mission that has been derailed, often in imperceptible ways …. Part of what makes the shadow mission so tempting is that it's usually so closely related to our gifts and passions. It's not 180 degrees off track; it is just 10 degrees off track, but that 10 degrees is in the direction of hell."
I needed to learn when to speak up—and when to shut up.
Recognizing my problem was the first step toward becoming a more effective communicator, as well as a more thoughtful friend and person. Next, I decided to investigate what the Bible had to say about it.
Ecclesiastes 5:3 says, "Too many words make you a fool." And Proverbs 10:19 warns, "Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut." In other words, the more I talk, the more chance I have to say the wrong thing.
And Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that I'll give an account on Judgment Day for every idle word I speak, which includes how I use electronic communication. Until I learned some self-control, I opted out of social networking. The opportunity to offer my two cents, 24/7, was too tempting. Certainly Thomas à Kempis knew human nature when he said, "It is easier to be silent altogether than to speak with moderation."
Here are some other things I've learned:
Jesus knows me; this I love. Before settling on the farm where I've lived for 15 years, I moved about 30 times. I only had a short time to develop friendships, so I yakked about myself. How else could someone get to know me unless I filled her in on all my life's details? But failing to balance my communication had the opposite effect. Instead of making friends, I turned them away.
Now I rejoice that God, my Creator, knows who I am. He delights in me. And he is most interested. What others need to know will come out over time—if necessary. And as I've taken time to listen to other people's stories and shown interest in their lives, I've cultivated precious friendships.
I can trust God with my reputation. Jesus didn't answer a word to those who hurled insults and allegations. He knew the truth and trusted his Father to justify him.
One author suggests that when we're dependent on words to adjust our public image, we're actually in bondage. We use words to make sure we remain in control so that others don't have power over us. But Jesus taught us to be humble and have a subservient attitude. While there are certainly times to speak up, it's better when I let God be my defender.
My words can hinder God's work in others. Because I'm an infomaniac, I'm always ready to fire off suggestions. But what if God wants to lead my friend in a different direction? What if he wants to bring her into a deeper and closer walk with him? Should I risk interfering by being quick to offer advice? The red flag goes up when I hear myself responding, "Well, I think …"
Now I shoot up a quick prayer and direct her to go to the source of all wisdom—the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is alive and powerful." It's exciting when passages I've read many times speak to me in a fresh way. And I want my friend to have the same experience, not rob her with my ideas. How much better for her to call on the Lord and receive his perfect answer.
Recently I served on a committee and Diana (not her real name) didn't stop talking for an entire two hour meeting. Later that week, some of us met again—without Diana. One woman who I'd met for the first time said she was pleased to find out I actually had some ideas. She thought I was "just quiet."
James 3:2 assures me I'll always struggle to use my tongue properly. But I find greater peace when I choose to be quiet(er). And I never regret anything I didn't say.
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Confessions of a (Recovering) Motormouth
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