Monday, April 21, 2008

When Words Are Many, Sin Is Not Absent

When I started this blog, I intended to include only three or four sentences of prose commentary with each poem. Almost from the beginning, I have consistently fallen short--er, long--of that goal.

The tendency to ramble is almost universal--and makes for boring reading. That's why our teachers insisted we rewrite school papers before turning them in, and why published work of even the most experienced authors is nearly always shorter than the original drafts. It's an extremely rare writer who can avoid the compulsion to "tell all" when first getting words down on paper.

The problem is worse with the spoken word, which offers no chance to go back and edit. Today's title is lifted directly from the NIV translation of Proverbs 10:19, which also says that "he who holds his tongue is wise." For most of my life, I have regularly detoured from that wise path; even my family complains that I regularly "talk a subject to death." Usually out of determination to get the other person to admit I am absolutely and completely right, or a desire to show off my knowledge. The specific sin behind most people's "many words" is pride.

Pride is probably also behind the fact that, as Thomas a Kempis said, "it is easier to be silent altogether than to speak in moderation.” As with the proverbial bag of potato chips from which nobody can eat just one, letting out the few necessary words frequently unleashes an anything-but-necessary outpouring. "I'm sorry I did that, but [lengthy attempt to justify oneself]." "Thank you for what you did, but [long explanation as to why it fell short]." "I'm sorry for your loss, but [unwanted advice on how it could have been avoided]." Almost in midsentence, we forget the other's needs and start thinking about how we can come out looking good. Even in prayer, we talk too much, telling God what we want rather than determining to hear what He wants us to ask for.

It is impossible to follow the great commandments to love God and other people, if we would rather talk at others than listen to them.

If you would keep your loves and friends,
If you would please your Lord,
Know when the time for talking ends,
And watch your every word.

If you owe an apology,
Let that be all you say,
And spare the lengthy "But, you see..."
To justify your way.

If you are angry or upset,
Or if you disagree,
Still keep from stirring up regret
By tossing words too free.

Beware of telling all you know,
Explaining on and on,
For there the seeds of conflict grow,
And peace will soon be gone.

If you would love your God and Lord--
Your fellow humans, too--
Beware the thoughtless spoken word,
Where danger ever grew.

1 comment:

Robin Bayne said...

Nice blog! Will stop back.