Growing up, my mother used to drill certain imperatives into my brain like, "Don't say anything you will later regret" or "If you cannot say something kind, do not say anything at all" (however, this last gem came from the movie "Bambi" I am almost certain). She was rightfully concerned over my precocious nature because I often got myself into trouble by communicating out loud things that should not be broadcast to an audience such as the time I picked up the bill at a restaurant. Before my father could catch me, I began to read it with enough volume to turn heads. Naturally, I was escorted from the table and instructed concerning this inappropriate behavior. Unfortunately, this was not the first or last time I needed a course correction.
As years have passed, though, I have cherished the many sound words of wisdom that both of my parents gave to me that have kept me from stepping into communication quicksand. Since my mother loved writing, she had many good insights to share. One of the most important was to never send a letter in anger. She told me that once something is put down on paper it is hard to take back. Instead, she recommended that when I was upset, I should write my feelings down as though talking to that person. Then, later, I needed to return and read it again after I had time to emotionally cool down. Often, the result was that I threw out the letter because it said hurtful things that did not need to assault the eyes of the reader. A scripture verse that really speaks to this process of evaluation is found in Matthew 12:37: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Now, that is enough to make us pause. Whether written or spoken, God is the unseen participant in every conversation. In light of this knowledge, we do need to weigh our words carefully.
An example of another one of my brash forays into communication came at the time we had gotten our first computer. It was a new gadget and I was just learning about the wonders of email and the internet. I belonged to a large group of people who came from all walks of life but all of them had been victims of polio. Unfortunately, there was a good deal of Christian bashing in this group as well as complaining or attacking others over petty things. I was particularly discouraged one day and decided to write an email to a friend in the group who was a Christian. I explained my frustrations with these folks for all their complaining and negative talk about believers. In short, I was venting. The problem came when I hit send and realized I sent the email to the entire membership. I was sick to my stomach for hours afterwards. I sent out an immediate apology to the membership and said this email was meant for a friend not the group. Of course, what can you say? It is like closing the barn door after the horse is out. Naturally, I had many people angry with me for what I said so eventually, I left this group having learned a valuable lesson about mis-communication.
When it came to spoken words, my father often gave me good counsel in this department. He advised me to think before I spoke and to be careful whom I shared information with. He said that not everyone was trustworthy especially if I was relating personal information. My poor father would probably faint over "Facebook" if he were around because of all the information that is readily shared there. However, his words were in line with the wisdom of Proverbs 17:27 which reads: "A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even tempered." Another excellent verse is found in Proverbs 29:20: "Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him". In James 1:26, the Apostle writes: "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." Finally, in Ephesians 4:29, Paul writes: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." God has a lot to say about communication and how we relate to one another.
Through the years, I found the wisdom of my father's admonition about sharing personal information with others to be valuable. It only took one time of betrayal by a person I thought was a friend to teach me the lesson of being careful about what I shared. What is even more disappointing is that I saw this happen in the church between sisters in the Lord. One shared some personal feelings with the other concerning a relative thinking this person would keep the confidence. Instead, the friend went and told the relative everything that was said creating hard feelings in the family. This destroyed the friendship.
What we say and what we write can have a great quality of encouragement and blessing or it can devastate those around us. The choice is ours on a daily basis. While my mother and father taught me well, the Bible is filled with even more specific guidelines to keep us on the right track in our relationships. Take time to look at passages that deal with communication. You will find a good deal in Proverbs and other books like James.
Yes, I am doing better at avoiding "foot in mouth" syndrome these days, but God is not finished working on me yet. I have learned to pray before I say anything now and always ask God to set a guard over my mouth. May each of us take time to consider our words that we may not later regret it, or as my mother might say: "May your words be sweet because you may have to eat them tomorrow." Selah!
I welcome your thoughts and insights here. Have you ever said anything you wished you had not? What did you do or learn from the experience?