A silence fell over the group that went on…and on…and on. So, I started to talk. I chatted on like a radio.
I’ve been reading through the book of Job from the Bible this summer. It really is a painful little book. It’s painful, not only because of the horrific catastrophes that happen to Job. That is excruciating enough to imagine. But, to have to listen in as his closest friends carelessly prattle on and on as Job suffers…well, that just breaks my heart.
Poor Job even tried to stop his friends after their droning deluge of words and pleaded with them, “You think you are wise. But, my spirit is broken. If only you would listen carefully to my words and let this be the way you comfort me.” (12:1-2, 16:2-3, 17:1 and 21:1-2) Unfortunately, the droning continued. His friends just didn’t get it.
Some folks never do.
Proverbs 18:2 tells us that a fool “only wants to tell others what they think.”
That’s precisely what Job’s friends intended to do. In response to his pleas, they said things like, “I cannot keep from speaking.” Or “Listen to what I have to say.”
Job’s friends desperately needed a class in Listening 101.
When we listen, really listen, we pay thoughtful attention to our friend; we hear what is being said and unsaid, in order to fully understand what’s on her heart.
But listening is hard work. Especially when our friend grows quiet. Some of us are uncomfortable, nervous even, with silence. We feel the need to fill the air with words.
I love the quote by one of the Desert Fathers, Arsenius, who said, “I have often repented of having spoken, but never of having remained silent.”
Even a fool is thought wise if they keep quiet; if they don’t speak they appear to actually understand.
Sometimes sitting together in silence is the best gift you can give to someone who is hurting. Just your presence can be a blessing.
That’s what Job’s friends started out doing. They sat quietly with him for a week. (Job 2:13) That must have been an incredible show of support for Job.
But, then keeping their mouths shut proved too difficult for them.
There are a few verses that I pray for myself when I am heading into a conversation that demands listening. The first is Psalm 141:3, it says, “Put a guard over the door of my mouth, help me be careful what I say.” The next one is 1st Corinthians 10:5; it says, "We take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ Jesus.” The third comes from James 1:19, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.”
And it works! When I’ve prepared myself in prayer, God puts a guard on my mouth, takes captive my thoughts and helps me to listen and be quiet. I wish that I could say that I have this down pat. Unfortunately, I don’t always remember to ask for God’s help. Yet, I am incredibly thankful when I do ask and God intervenes.
I’ll bet Job wished his friends had prepared themselves in prayer as well. Their unguarded, babbling words hurt Job deeply. “How long will you torment me and crush me with words? Ten times now you have reproached me; shamelessly you attack me.” (19:2-3, NIV) Rather than their words being a healing balm to Job in his grief, their “Careless words stabbed like a knife.” (Proverbs 12:18)
I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want my words to hurt others the way Job’s friends’ words hurt him.
If we want to be wise women when it comes to our words and our friendships, especially when walking beside someone who has experienced deep loss or painful hardships, we need to ponder what our own words sound like.
Wise words are gracious, cautious, considerate, and safe. But, careless words are often spontaneous, heedless, and can be incredibly hurtful.
Pleasant words are like honey from a honeycomb—
sweet to the soul and healing to the body.
Here’s some questions to ponder today…
How often do I give heed to my words? Do wise or careless words generally flow from my lips? Would others consider me a good listener or would they say that my words remind them more of a babbling brook? How often do I pray before I speak?
Wise people listen and learn.