Saturday, October 23, 2010

Speaking Too Quickly/Wisdom

What do you do when you hear something that simply infuriates you? It's hard to know, especially in the moment, so I'm increasingly learning to simply sit on it, bite my tongue, and pray and think for a while before I respond.

Those of you who know me in person can stop laughing, pick your jaws up off the floor, etc.—yes, I know this is a pretty radical concept for the guy who always has a quick response to anything anyone says. Somewhere in the last few years, God smacked me in the head enough times for me to begin realizing that sometimes, a quick response is unhelpful—even if that response is technically accurate. Sometimes people just need to be heard; sometimes I don't have all the facts; sometimes my opinion isn't relevant even if it's correct.

I have had several opportunities to put this new approach into practice recently, both related to the same general topic. In line with the new policy, I'm not actually going to address it in a blog post, at least not directly, for a while. Maybe ever. Any writing I do on the topic will avoid naming names and specifics in any case. Suffice it to say, I have had several friends bring up a situation and some issues that are incredibly near to my heart, about which I feel more passionately than almost anything else—and I cannot respond at all.

Again, those of you who know me well might recognize that this is hard for me. There are in both cases very good reasons for my keeping my mouth shut—circumstances that mean it would not be profitable for me to speak my mind. That doesn't make it any less difficult.

For a long time, I understood the many condemnations of quick speech in Proverbs to simply refer to speaking foolishly. I saw no problem with my own quickness of speech, except where it directly hurt someone. More and more, however, I begin to understand that those who are quick to speak—me included—are rarely those who are quick to listen, quick to understand, and quick to discern wisely. More often, they are those who are quick to judge, quick to assume, and quick to misunderstand. It is difficult to answer wisely, especially in complicated situations—and let's be honest, most situations in life are at least somewhat complicated—without taking time to carefully consider, to ask good questions, and to pray through the situation.

Woe to those of us who are ready to snap off an answer without taking time to consider carefully the implications of that answer.

Sure, it is possible to go too far in the other direction. I know people who are so afraid of giving wrong answers that they simply will not give answers—or at least, not without constant hedging and qualifying and playing devil's advocate until their answer is obscured beyond recognition. We do people a disservice when they ask us for advice and we refuse to say either, "I don't know," or "I think you should do thus-and-such." Either is a fine answer, provided we have given the situation some thought and prayer, but we should stop wasting people's time with halfway-in-between answers.

For my part, in the situations I referred to above, I do have a strong opinion—but it's not one I can give right now. How does that fit into what I just said? Well, there are a few more options: "I haven't had time to think through a God-honoring response, yet. Can you give me some time and I'll get back to you?" is one. Another is, "Look, I don't have enough information." Yet another is, "I'm too close to this to give you a good answer." All of those presuppose that we're seeking to honor God and give legitimate, helpful answers, though—none of the tiptoeing around an answer for fear of offending someone. (Note: if you give one of these answers as an excuse not to simply tell someone what you believe, rather than because it's the truth, you deserve a swift kick in the shin. Tell the truth.)

Honoring God sometimes requires us to remain silent. Other times, it requires us to speak kindly, graciously, and firmly. In one or both of these situations, the time for such speech may come. I will address the broader issue underlying both situations at some point in the future, but when that time comes, it will not be a response built out of my immediate emotional backlash against something that bothers me. The most helpful and edifying responses may involve an emotional component, but wisdom involves both careful thought and considerable prayer. Reacting in the heat of the moment is almost never wise. Yes, occasionally we need to be able to answer immediately—but such moments are far rarer than my proclivity for quick answers would suggest if we took it as normative. (Thankfully, my proclivities are not normative for the Christian walk in any way or area: far too much sin in me for that to be anything but a deeply horrifying nightmare.)

In short: be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath—for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:21). Take time to think things through carefully, and then give people the best answer you're able. Don't feel ashamed of that answer if it was decided in careful thought and prayer. Simply trust God to do his work far better than we are able.

0 responses:

Post a Comment

Got some thoughts? Fire away. Please be polite, thoughtful, and kind! Please provide your name and, if applicable, website. Anonymous comments, along with all forms of spam, trolling, and personal attacks, will be deleted.