When my parents showed up to greet their youngest and newest child at Catholic Charities adoption agency, the moment they walked in, they heard a baby screaming at the top of his or her lungs and carrying on. Immediately, my father glanced over at my mother and proclaimed, “That’s our daughter!” My mom loves telling this story, as she too had a hunch that the child making the most noise in the place was indeed going to be theirs.
To no one’s surprise, into their arms that screaming baby was promptly placed. And it would be accurate to say I haven’t stopped trying to make myself heard since! (Now, in all fairness, at the time I was screaming, I did have the meanest case of diaper rash; but that aside, I certainly made myself known that spring day in May!)
My childhood was laden with “time outs”. Not the “time outs” that we’re accustomed to… No, I wasn’t typically getting into trouble. I was simply receiving “time outs” from talking. I was a talker. Year after year, report cards were broken records, “Talks too much”, “Great student but chatty”, “Needs to be moved a lot to avoid talking with friends” … My teachers. I simply did not have the self-control to just zip it!
Now with age and maturity has come more self-control, but it has taken literally half of my lifetime to claim success in the discipline of keeping quiet. And it does not come easily to me; I still need to work at it!
As I matured and began exercising more self-control, I learned when to use my words and how to use my words wisely. However wise, I still found myself always eventually using my words! Always needing to add to conversation… always needing to make my point or make myself heard, always needing to fill that awkward silence… Anyone with me here? Awkward silence is the absolute worst for me!
Over the past couple of years, God has really been working on me in this area. I am consistently challenged to listen more, talk less, and be okay with the awkward silence. (In other words, to just be okay being QUIET.) It is more challenging for me than I’d like. But the frenzy of life, the more I mature, the more I find quiet less and less awkward and more and more welcomed.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10
I recently sat in a board meeting – a board of a new 501(c)(3) start-up where there is a lot of work and a lot of opinions and ideas for how to keep the work moving forward. And of course, everyone’s participation is encouraged and valued. However, just prior to one of our meetings, I felt a nudge to listen more and talk less. I found that when I kept quiet and listened to others first, many articulated points I had considered myself way better than I could. Amen! The word was out! And it wasn’t my word or my idea, but it was out, and it was good! It didn’t have to be my idea.
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:14
These past few years, particularly in my current job, I have learned that if we’re all working for the greater good, it does not matter from whose mouth(s) the thoughts or ideas flow. It takes much self-control and discipline for me to not speak up so quickly that I get the credit for a great idea. Or so I could make my opinion known before others have the chance to share. When I do that, I’m simply trying to prove my value to the team, versus valuing the team. When I change my posture to one of listening and valuing others over what I have to share, I get the opportunity to better see how God is at work, and often times, allow myself the time to add even greater value, because I sought to understand before making snap comments, judgments, or decisions.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; – James 1:19
Not only have I struggled with this in the workplace, I struggle in social settings as well. “How can I add to the conversation?”, “If I don’t add to the conversation, will I look uncool?” And even, “Did what I just said make me sound intelligent enough?”
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. – Proverbs 18:13
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
– Proverbs 18:2
However, in social settings, I have also learned that the absolute best time to keep quiet is when gossip arises.
And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, – 1 Thessalonians 4:11
Friends, this is the time when it is most freeing to be quiet. To not contribute to conversations about other people. I am no better in God’s eyes than another, so why do I need to try to elevate myself or others over that person through gossip? Again, a struggle, but arguably the best place to be quiet.
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” – Luke 11:28
In the Book of Revelation, God says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20) Will I even hear the knock? Am I postured to hear his voice? Or am I consumed with clutter – my own agendas, thoughts, ideas?
I want to be quick to hear. I long to be slow to speak. But I’m a work in progress. It takes self-control, discipline, and even selflessness. It takes putting myself in “time outs”! I’m quite confident I will have an ongoing struggle with holding my tongue, but I know that when I do, and I simply listen, I often have room to hear more, and experience more from God.
I’m challenged to put this work in 2020, adding simple disciplines such as keeping quiet the first 15 minutes of meetings in which I’m participating. Holding my tongue when gossip makes its way into conversation. Asking others what they think before sharing my opinion. Ha! Who knows, these “time outs” may even help me look smarter! 😉
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. – Proverbs 17:28
Lord, thank you for your word which reminds me of the importance of being still and quiet. How I long to hear your voice guiding me each day! Please help me to listen more and talk less. I know this requires intentionality and self-control. I welcome you, Holy Spirit, to help me in these areas, so that I may hear you and experience you more. I ask all of this is Jesus’ Holy name, Amen.