“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”
Even though over two decades have passed, I can still remember the feelings all too well. Sitting in the bedroom alone, face flushed, skin tingling, and heart vainly, yet fervently wishing for the power to turn back time. My untamed tongue had gotten me in trouble once again. If only I could be granted a redo, I would start over and say something really nice instead of something so terrible to my sister! As I waited for one of my parents to come apply the rod of correction to the seat of my understanding (as one of my professors so poetically puts it), my childish mind would repeatedly echo a Nancy Kerrigan-like “Why?!! Why?!!” and wish it weren’t so exceedingly difficult to keep my mouth under control. In those early stages of life, I became well-acquainted with the sentiment of Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
With the passing of so many years, I wish I could say that my battle against an unruly tongue had long ago been won, but at 32 years of age, the war rages on. Since you’re human, and you’re a woman (my apologies to any rogue male readers out there), you just might know something of the difficulties of saying the right thing at the right time and in the right way. Yessiree, wrong thing, wrong time, wrong way—that’s more often the course my speech tends to follow. Another truth with which I am all too familiar: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Prov. 17:28).
In the book of Proverbs, a distinguishing characteristic of the wise woman is seen in her ability to close her mouth. She knows well that “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Prov. 13:3). While the fool is marked by an open mouth, the wise woman is marked by open ears. She is ready to listen, learn, and receive instruction. The foolish woman, on the other hand, remains convinced that her mind is a storehouse of knowledge out of which she is obligated to share generously with all (18:2).
Perhaps you’re familiar with such a lavish giver. She may identify herself as being the blunt type, one who always speaks her mind, or the proud recipient of the gift of gab. If a thought can be expressed clearly in ten words or less, she can skillfully pack it into 50. To put it simply, she talks too much, and it gets her into trouble. I know what it’s like to be that woman. Maybe you do, too.
Although we often pass off the tendency for excessive yakking as a mere matter of personality, Proverbs portrays it as a matter of wisdom. The problem, as Proverbs 10:19 puts it, is that “when words are many, transgression is not lacking.” The simple fact is: the more we speak; the more we tend to sin. Being well aware of this truth, the wise woman disciplines herself to guard her speech.
A simple question will help us to discern whether the words in our heart are worth conveying with our tongue: Are these words worthwhile? Of course, if we think only in terms of ourselves, our thoughts will often seem worthy of expression, so that’s why it’s important to think in terms of our Lord and our neighbors. Would our words be worthwhile in that they would bring glory to God and grace to those who hear us? If so, then they’re words worth speaking. If not, then a silent conversation with the Lord just might be of greater benefit to all.
To expand these thoughts further, we can remember the following principles taken from the New Testament. A wise woman’s speech is worthwhile when it is:
- Germane (Not germane as in Jackson; germane as in appropriate)
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” We guard our mouths to prevent corrupting (literally, rotten) talk from crossing our lips; we speak words that are good for the growth of others, that are germane (appropriate) to the occasion, and that will convey the grace of God to those around us.
Because I took my alliteration medication today, let me add three reminders for how such a daunting task as developing worthwhile speech can be tackled:
Whether on the phone, on Facebook, in person, through email, wherever, and whenever, let’s make our words count. Talk less; listen more; sin less–the wise woman’s motto. ;)
Here’s today’s proverb:
“He who restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”
Related: The Sweet Taste of Sharing
Photo: Dimitri Castrique