Why is it that when it is time to be silent,
I would rather speak;
and when it is time to speak,
I would rather be silent?
I fear it is the difference between using my words my way or God’s. Words boil inside me sometimes with a fury that has nothing to do with the ability I must develop in order to write. These are the times when need, not skill, pushes them up through my unexamined heart and out my mouth. They congeal into something I thought I needed to say, but as soon as I share them; I realize too late how they are the wrong words. That’s when I wish I could gulp them back, send them for revision or ripening, erase them from memory, or just bury them.
I tell the “Feather Story” to children when I get a chance. It teaches the fickle characteristic of misspoken words. In the story a wise teacher wants to teach a young man the importance of well-chosen words. The teacher asks the young man to take a bag of feathers and place one feather on the doorstep of every person in his
village. “Easy enough,” the young man agrees. But the next day, the wise teacher requires the young man to retrieve the feathers. “Impossible,” the young man says. “The wind will have blown them away.” “Yes,” the wise teacher responds. “Just like our words. They are feathers in the wind.”
I know that words can heal and my deepest heart desire is that my words, whether spoken or written will do just that. But the truth is they don’t always. I pray the prayer, “My the words of my heart . . . “ and perhaps that’s where I should stop for a while to examine what emotion, hurt, insecurity, or anger forms my words. I need an editor in my heart, whose red pen deletes the words that should never leave my mouth, sends them to a quick death before they have time to find their way to my mouth.
But I do have that Editor. The Holy Spirit wants to be my word editor. It is usually not a red pen He uses, though. He offers a quick nudge easily overlooked in my rush to use my words. This Spirit of Truth offers counsel I can receive from no other for He knows my heart, and more, knows what words will serve me better the ones I too quickly grab.
A time to speak is not just a time to open your mouth and let come what may. In the well-seasoned life of someone who is learning what rhythms season with sweetness and growth, a time to speak comes after a time to be silent as it does in Solomon’s couplet. A time to speak submits to the original Word-maker whose creative words formed this world with all its beauty and balance, whose best word came to us in flesh as Jesus. A time to speak should partner with every word our Lord spoke, without needing to retrieve any. A time to speak heals and helps like the words of Jesus.
I cry with Isaiah about my unclean lips. I confess my need to go to the heart of the matter and allow painful scrutiny of the meditations that sourced unnecessary or hurtful words. “Point out anything that offends You,” I pray. When it is time to speak, I want to be ready with the right words for the right time.
And so I pray . . .