Years ago, I had Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) posted above my kitchen sink:
“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.” (The italics are mine.)
I continue to learn that even good intentions mean nothing if the recipient of my words does not benefit from them. I’m going to share some mistakes I’ve made and what I learned from them, with the help of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment.
The overall lesson I’m learning is that if I truly trust God, and have His compassion in my heart, I’ll avoid a lot of mistakes! I’m continually re-learning that I need to rely on the power of prayer and say a lot less!
Lesson #1: Ask myself: How will my comment come across to the listener?
One night, I was at the dinner table with daughter Kristy’s family. We had been talking about the hot sauce and her husband handed a piece of bread with sauce on it to their two- year- old son. My over-protectiveness kicked in and I said, “I hope you aren’t giving him the hot sauce.” I was only thinking of my grandchild. I wasn’t considering how that would come across to my son-in-law. But the Lord showed me how that could sound like a critical remark to a parent–as if I wasn’t trusting his judgment. And the worst that could have happened, even if it had been the hot sauce (which it wasn’t) is that we would have had an unhappy two -year -old for a while. I should have kept my mouth shut.
Lesson #2: Don’t give unsolicited advice or suggestions to adults.
This is most tempting to me with the people I love most (ie; immediate family and close friends). If they want my opinion, they’ll ask.
(Exception: There may be times when it is appropriate to say: “Would you like to hear my thoughts on that?” But if they say “No,” then it’s best to keep quiet.)
Here’s an example of what not to do: One night, my daughter Kristy put some toothpaste on an electric toothbrush and it looked like she was handing it to her two- year -old. I said, “You might want to put it in her mouth before turning it on.” I instantly realized I should have kept quiet and quickly commented on how pretty the toothbrush was. My daughter already knew to do that and even if she hadn’t, the worst that would have happened was that some toothpaste would have splattered on them. I know how annoying it can be to have someone suggest something I’ve already thought of, although I usually just thank them, knowing their intentions were to be helpful.
God is my role model. He waits for us to ask, and He allows us to make mistakes. He even allows us to suffer the consequences of our mistakes–but He redeems them, if we allow Him to, by teaching us valuable lessons through them. I need to truly trust that God loves people far more than I do and that He knows what He’s doing. When I do, it’s a lot easier to keep quiet and rely on the power of prayer and I feel at peace (instead of anxious). When I spent a month living with daughter Kristy’s family in Turkey during their move there, I committed many of their decisions to prayer and saw God guide them without a word from me! Amazing!
Lesson #3: Be sensitive to the needs and moods of others in the timing of my requests for help. If I’m not careful, I can get so focused on what I need that I fail to consider the needs of the other person. If they’re stressed or exhausted or have a lot on their plate, that isn’t the time to ask for favors. Instead, be patient, pray, and wait. Trust God to meet my needs in His timing (which will take into consideration everyone’s needs.)
Lesson #4: Stay out of other peoples relationships/conversations/decisions unless invited in. (As a mom, I need to remember that my adult children are able to speak for themselves.) Even if I’m invited in, it’s better to ask questions about what they think and how they feel, instead of giving my suggestions. I don’t want to be in a position of taking sides.
Here’s an example of an uninvited comment: One day my daughter Kristy and her husband were discussing what he should wear. He had asked her opinion. I knew a lot of his clothes were packed away and made the comment that I thought his outfit was fine. Jonathan wisely chose to please his wife and went to change clothes. This reminded me not to enter into other people’s conversations uninvited and definitely don’t come between a husband and wife.
Lesson#5: Be sensitive to the other person’s feelings in deciding whether or not to share something unpleasant. I once made a mistake in this area because, instead of trusting God and relying on prayer, I sent an email to someone about an event that had occurred with the intention of alerting them to potential danger. The Lord convicted me of my lack of faith and my insensitivity. With my husband, also, I’ve had to learn to be more sensitive to his needs in deciding when to share certain things or ask for his help.
Lesson #6: When someone is hurting, just listen and pray. That’s not the time to offer suggestions or look for solutions. They just need a sympathetic ear. When I love someone, I tend to try to help them by looking for solutions to their problems. But that’s not my role. God has the solutions and He’ll reveal them in time. In the hurting times, all that’s needed is a sympathetic ear. I know how much I appreciate the fact that God allows me to vent to Him, and then waits for me to seek His guidance.
So, with the Lord’s help, I will pray before I speak and ask God to show me whether or not my words would benefit the listener. If not, then I should keep quiet!