I never got in trouble for talking in grade school. Well, maybe now and again. In Kindergarten, I remember being asked to leave carpet time and go put my head down on my desk after being caught chatting with a friend. I knew that for some kids, having to put your head down on your desk was a daily requirement. I, on the other hand, was completely mortified. It did not happen twice.
Now, strangely, talking gets me in trouble all the time. I get caught in verbal situations that are not pretty. Here are some common scenarios in my life, and perhaps in yours:
Scenario #1: The Knee-Jerk Reaction
Sometimes I'm caught off guard by stuff. Sharpie marker on my new tablecloth, THE stuffed animal left at a restaurant, a throwing up dog after having eaten two bags of chocolate chips out of the pantry...you know. You have your own list like that. And when I'm not prepared for a challenge, I can overreact. This is when my kids get the, "WHAT were you thinking!?" and "Seriously?" and all the other ungracious things I say from time to time. Yes, I pray for God to erase all my unkind commentary from their little damaged hearts. Earnestly, I do. But the knee-jerk reaction still happens sometimes. Why? Because I'm trying to change something with my words.
Scenario #2: Thinking Out Loud
My poor husband. I think out loud a lot, never realizing he's doing his best to figure out a strategic response. Should he solve the problem, nod quietly, offer advice, ask questions? Do I even care about his response, or am I just sorting out my heart aloud? I don't even know the answer to these questions. But I do know I can be self-absorbed. I can forget about my loving, listening audience. Why? Because I'm trying to change something with my words.
Scenario #3: Good Old-Fashioned Shouting
It's effective, let's be honest. Shouting gives me a feeling of power sometimes. Shouting at him is the only thing that stops the dog from barking. Shouting shocks the loudly bickering kids into silence. Shouting is a theatrical complement to a good verbal stab. But shouting is cheap and lazy. It's relying on volume instead of content to influence a situation. Nonetheless, I still on occasion resort to it. Why? Because I'm trying to change something with my words.
Scenario #4: Miss Needy Needleton
My poor husband, chapter two. I have learned that he is not God. My husband, no matter how great he can be, is not responsible for (nor is he capable of) making me feel whole. Only God can fill up my empty, befriend my lonely, and heal my deepest hurt. But my husband is the one I see everyday, and I am forgetful. So that empty sneaks up on me and I sneak it up on him, asking him ever so subtly to do the job God is meant to do. It never goes well. Sometimes I'm needy and I look to the wrong person to remind me who I am. Why? Because I'm trying to change something with my words.
Last week was a little bit messy. I had more on my plate than usual, and let's just say I was less emotionally together than usual for a few reasons. It wasn't horrible, but it was a little messy. I kept having to sweep up those messes, and apologize to my people.
In the midst, I began re-reading a book I'd read years ago called The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian. Early on in the book, Stormie has a subsection entitled, "Shut Up and Pray." It encapsulates her position, one on which she has written numerous books, that prayer should precede any potentially sensitive conversation you have with someone, not only with your spouse, but in any relationship. This is expected Christian advice, in my experience. And advice which I myself take, when a big issue is on the table, or when I'm really nervous about speaking to someone about something. Rare cases. So the section wasn't really hitting home until this passage:
When we live by the power of God rather than our flesh, we don't have to strive for power with our words. "For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power" (I Corinthians 4:20). It's not the words we speak that make a difference, it is the power of God accompanying them. You'll be amazed at how much power your words have when you pray before you speak them. You'll be even more amazed at what can happen when you shut up and let God work.
Of course! Part of the reason I kept having to sweep up my own messes was because I was striving for power with my words and then feeling powerless, because it was all my own strength and not rooted in God's. Really, it is exhausting work. Do you feel this? And this kind of striving for power is not limited to instances of verbal manipulation, being controlling, those kinds of obvious misuses of words. The ways I can strive for power with my words can be so simple and subtle, especially with my kids. My love and desires for them run so deeply that my words come out tangled with striving.
Thankfully, God's offer is freedom from such burdensome verbal work. He is in charge of all my people, and is reminding me to allow Him the room to work and speak in their lives. I'm not in the habit of this yet, but certainly I have a new plan to pray first, speak second. Even when I'm caught off guard by a disaster. Even when I just need to ponder something out loud. Even when I'm tempted to shout (except for at the dog). And especially when I'm running on empty. Why? Because God is trying to change something with His words.