This past week a group from our church spent four days in Manasquan, Mantoloking, and Lavalette, three towns on the Jersey Shore that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. On Saturday evening we went to the coffee-house type worship at the church. The speaker was Jen, part of the praise team, who spoke passionately on the Simplicity chapter in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that our Maker puts things in our lives for us to learn and be amazed by them. So, I was amazed. Two other women in our group had also participated in the Celebration of Discipline book study this spring. We all looked at each other and smiled. Yes, this talk was for us.
One by one, she spoke about the practical guidelines Foster puts forth, which, if we follow them, will lead us to a life of honest simplicity. The key words here are If we follow them…
Foster’s eighth guideline for practical simplicity is this: Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.
Jen read this one, looked at the audience and said humorously, “I’ve got this one nailed.”
I laughed along with the audience. Not because I had this one nailed, but because I know how she felt to finally come upon one of Foster’s instructions that allows you to think, “Yes! Got it!”
So what are Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech?
In Matthew 5:33-37 he says : “And don’t say anything you don’t mean…Just say yes and no. When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” (paraphrased in The Message by Eugene Peterson.) That is — No excuses, no whining, no explaining, no fancy talk, no elaboration, no maybes, no swearing… Yes, I’ll be glad to. No, I’m sorry, I can’t.
In past posts “stuff” has dealt mostly with physical stuff, perhaps because that is usually what we think of when the ubiquitous word stuff rolls off our tongue or across our keyboard. But today, let’s think of stuff as the baggage we carry around every day, those black garbage bags that color our thoughts and our speech. Bitterness, anger, jealousy, envy — all those ugly words weigh us down and come out in our talk.
It used to be called Diarrhea of the Mouth; now it’s called TMI. It is very difficult to claim Not Guilty on this one. Ever just want to fill the silence with talking and then realize that you are saying nothing of importance? Ever interrupt someone just to get in your two cents? Ever say something and then think, Why did I say that? Ever say, Well, don’t tell anyone this, but… Ever talk just to feel important? Ever speak of someone unkindly?
Yes, to all the above. It’s not pretty to admit.
We’ve all been in conversations when suddenly the talk takes a turn for the worse. Words spill out, awkwardness ensues, someone leans down to tie a shoe… Perhaps you were the listener? Perhaps you were the talker?
We’ve also all been in conversations when the other person stops listening. Their eyes glaze over, body language changes, they lean down to tie a shoe… And we are likely to think them rude, when we should be wondering if it could be our talk.
Listening is an art, yes, but so is speaking. And maybe we should all just shut up? My Mom always used to say,
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.”
I used to hate it when she said that. Behind her back, I would mouth the words and roll my eyes. But today, I’m here to say, You were right, Mom. (Are you listening?)
Those words that spill out from our stuff? They can only get us in trouble. With our friends, with our families, with our spouses, with our bosses, with Jesus. So, Zip your lips, Think before you speak, Put a sock in it, Bite your tongue, Pray for patience, Leave the room. Whatever you have to do to keep your speech honest and upright and pleasing, just do it. For the person you’re with, and for Jesus.
Do I have this one nailed? No, but I’m trying. And when I can’t do it myself, I can call on the one who was nailed to the cross for me.