Do you ever get the feeling that you have said too much?
Whether in a conversation with a friend, in a discussion at work, or even just talking to my husband or my children, sometimes I feel that my words are cumbersome and sound more like chatter than conversation. I seem to forget that listening is more important than being heard.
My friend has a slip of paper hanging on her refrigerator that reads:
“MY WORDS: ARE THEY TRUE? ARE THEY KIND? ARE THEY NECESSARY?”
That last question often gives me pause. Are my words necessary?
We all know that sometimes silence is better than words. Studies have shown that a simple seven-second wait can be enough to allow an impulse to pass. Like that urge to eat the Oreo cookie or yell at the driver next to you in traffic, the urge to speak is also strong. Yet, by remaining silent, at least some of the time, we can learn to become interiorly recollected and can avoid regretting what we say. However, just like the virtues, silence is something we must practice.
Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” One method for minimizing our words is to count just a few seconds before we jump into a conversation. Even when we are asked for our opinion on something, we can count silently and say a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit to guide our reply. When I practice this, I find that I listen more and speak less, and I never regret taking my time to answer. But if I forget to practice this, I am more likely to wonder whether I ought to have said anything at all.
There are certainly times times when it is virtuous to speak and when it would be less so to remain quiet. In fact, scripture tells us that there is a time for both silence and for words: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-7).
We can ask the Holy Spirit for help in knowing whether we should speak, or for knowing what to say:
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Your ways are perfect, Lord. Send your Holy Spirit to help me stop and listen for your direction. Give me the wisdom to know when to speak and what to say. Amen.
The saints practiced prudence in speech, and it helps to hear what they said about remaining silent when necessary:
“Speak only when it is more useful to speak than to be silent.” —Saint John Chrysostom
“In order to avoid faults in speech, we should have our lips buttoned, so that while unbuttoning them we may think of what we are going to say.”
—Saint Francis de Sales
“Speak much with God but little with men.” —Saint Ephrem
A talkative soul lacks both the essential virtues and intimacy with God. A deeper interior life, one of gentle peace and of that silence where the Lord dwells, is quite out of the question. A soul that has never tasted the sweetness of inner silence is a restless spirit which disturbs the silence of others.
The next time we find ourselves questioning whether or not we should say something, let’s take just a quick moment to ask Our Lord: Should I speak, or should I hold my tongue?