Over the past several years, I have noticed a trend of choosing a “word of the year.” This seems to be the new New Year’s Resolution. A mantra, of sorts, to inspire change, growth, or simplicity (all common words-of-the-year, by the way) in the upcoming year.
I have shied away from this particular blogging/social media trend, because it has always seemed to be just a little too close to “name it and claim it” territory for my comfort.
Until this year.
It was quite unintentional, I assure you. And, as I have actively, and quite intentionally avoided this particular blogging/social media trend, I figure it is only appropriate that I am also bucking the common practice of declaring my word at the beginning of the year…
Last Christmas, my husband gave me The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women. And, as the Lord often does, it was exactly what I needed to read…starting in the very first chapter!
The chapter was on Anger. And, while I do not typically think of myself as an angry person (oh, I have my moments!), maybe it would be better to say that I do not like to think of myself as an angry person. But, it wasn’t the specific topic of anger that resonated with me. It was the idea of listening.
John and Janie Street explained it this way:
“Listening is hard to do when you’re angry, because true listening involves submission. This requires a silent, inward confession that your demands and anger are not right and that you need the correction and help of another. This is not listening for some audible voice from God, because He has already communicated to you everything you need in His Word. When you try to hear an audible voice, you betray your lack of trust in the sufficiency of His Word (2 Peter 1:3, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Instead, listen to God through the truth of His Word â€“ the Bible. â€¦ But, you must not stop with just listening. To listen carefully, you must not continue to speak.” (The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women, pgs. 31-32, bold mine)
My family talks…a lot. I think it was a bit unnerving for my husband when we started dating. Family dinners were loud. Words flew at a furious pace. Good-natured arguments and friendly debates were common. We interrupted, and talked over one another. Sentences often overlapped. Thoughts were often left incomplete. None of it was done maliciously, or with the intention of being rude or inconsiderate. That’s just how we communicated.
It was the polar opposite of his family’s way of doing things. His family was quiet. Conversations were slow and deliberate. They waited for someone to finish a thought (maybe a sentence, maybe an entire paragraph) before chiming in. And, the general pace of conversation was much slower.
So, early on in our marriage, my husband frequently pointed out my propensity to interrupt him. Honestly, I dismissed his observation, and his rebukes. I wasn’t doing it to be rude. I was doing it out of habit.
But, it bothered him.
And, the truth is, it was inconsiderate. It was rude. It was disrespectful.
And, if “true listening involves submission,” this was an obvious lack of submission on my part.
Instead of listening to him, to his perspective, and his opinions…I would cut him off, or talk over him, in order to share my opinions, and defend myself and my perspective…again. And, I am not only talking in the context of disagreements, although those types of conversations would definitely fall into this category. Sadly, I am mostly talking about normal, everyday communication.
“Speaking when you should be listening only interrupts the valuable insight that you are lacking.” (The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women, pg. 32)
To say I have been a slow learner in this area would be a gross understatement. I am embarrassed to say that we had been married almost 15 years…and I was only just beginning to recognize the enormity of my problem in this area. And, as I began to realize the years of wisdom and valuable insights I had missed out on (both from him, and from others), by insisting on speaking, when I should have been listening…I finally wanted to take his concern seriously.
Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (ESV)
And, James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (ESV)
There is no sugar-coating it. Scripture calls an over-abundance of words, and the speed with which we rush to verbalize them, sin.
So, I took those verses as my starting point for this past year. Even though I had read them numerous times, I began to meditate on them, daily. And, I made it my goal to prayerfully apply them in every single conversation and interaction that I had…with my husband, with my children, with the people in my church, and online.
To listen carefully, you must not continue to speak. This became my motto (not mantra!) for this last year.
Did I do it perfectly? No. I think, this side of Heaven, it will always be a struggle.
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” James 3:3 (ESV)
In his sermon on Taming the Tongue, John MacArthur says,
“if I want to focus my Christian life on one thing, if I want to get my act together, if I want to bring my whole spiritual life into control, I ought to work on my what? My tongue. Well, now we realize that it’s not fully possible to totally have a holy tongue, but to the extent that one controls his tongue, he will control his body. Why? Because whatever spiritual dynamics work to control your tongue will therefore work to control the rest of you. But it makes it so simple and so dynamic if we can just concentrate on the tongue. Isn’t that practical? I mean, just get it down to that. Focus on your mouth. And if the Holy Spirit gets control of the most volatile and the most potent member, the rest will be subdued.” (Taming the Tongue, part 1)
And, over the course of the year, I found that I could sum up my goal in one simple word:
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” James 1:26 (ESV)