By LORRAINE V. MURRAY | Published March 19, 2015
You’re in a group of friends when the conversation suddenly shifts to someone you all find annoying. He’s not there at the moment, so one friend makes a snide comment about him and everyone laughs.
You suspect it would be kinder to keep silent, but this absolutely hilarious line pops into your head and before you can stop yourself, you blurt it out. Your friends shake with laughter, and you feel right proud of yourself at the time.
But later you wish that you had kept your big mouth shut. You realize what you said about the absent person was unkind and could easily qualify as gossip.
If this sounds familiar, please join my club immediately. With Lent in full swing, I’m doing fair to middling with the no-sweets thing, but when it comes to bridling my tongue, I get a big fat zero.
Sometimes I hear a tiny warning in my mind right before I say something I later regret, but often I ignore it—because my desire to impress folks overrides my good judgment.
When I’m home alone writing for hours at a stretch, I don’t struggle with taming my tongue, since I don’t talk to myself—which is a good thing. But there’s still a danger in writing a witty Facebook post that might hurt someone’s feelings.
Of course, the biggest challenge comes whenever I venture out into the world—supper with friends, conversations at church, grocery-store excursions and of course, visits with relatives.
“It’s the other people in our lives who offer the best opportunities to overcome instinctive, deep-rooted sin,” writes Frederica Mathewes-Green in “The Illumined Heart.”
She used the example of Anna, who has trouble putting up with her mother-in-law, Irene. “I could maintain my veneer of holiness a whole lot better,” Anna fretted, “if I didn’t have to deal with Irene every Sunday.”
Still, in an odd sort of way, Anna actually needs her mother-in-law in her struggle to follow Christ: “It is when we meet up with people who stimulate our pride or anger, and struggle to subdue those impulses, that the passions start to die,” noted Mathewes-Green.
Of course, it’s hard to learn how to “bite” our tongues rather than say something harmful when so many TV sitcoms are dripping with witty, sarcastic rejoinders.
So if we encounter a snobbish waiter at a restaurant we may be tempted to “put him in his place” with a choice comment like folks do on TV. And if we’re in the car and another driver yells an insult, we may want to hurl back an equally stinging remark because “turnabout is fair play”—right?
In TV sitcoms this seems to be true, but Christ said we should deny ourselves and pick up our crosses—which means life isn’t about getting even. And he said we should love others as we love ourselves, which means life certainly isn’t about hurting people.
There are moments when I know I should remain silent, but the words come tumbling out. Really, do I have to critique the steak my husband has lovingly prepared for me? Would it kill me to keep quiet?
That saying “Silence is golden” certainly rings true in many situations. This is not to say we should all stand around tongue-tied when we are with friends, but it helps to pray for discernment about when to chime in and when to refrain.
Words can comfort people and bolster their spirits, but they can also drag people down. A good joke is harmless, but a witty jibe aimed at someone else can be as painful as a sword straight through the heart.
Ecclesiastes tells us “There is a time to speak and a time to remain silent.” During Lent especially, let’s pray for God’s guidance in knowing the difference.
Lorraine Murray’s latest book is “Death Dons a Mask,” a fun-filled mystery in which a mysterious seminarian wreaks havoc at a small Georgia parish. Artwork is by Jef Murray. Readers may contact the Murrays at email@example.com.