The Right Timing for Talking

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We all know that speaking too quickly isn't the best idea. "Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him," says Proverbs 29:20. A quick reply is usually a thoughtless one, and often the words we speak are later regretted.

But what about taking a lot of time before replying?

There is such a thing as ?rehearsal' for a conversation - I frequently catch my husband in the act. We'll be tidying the kitchen or driving in the car, and I'll notice his lips moving as if he were speaking - only he's silent. "Who are you pretending to talk to?" I'll ask him, and he'll cough up the imagined conversation partner and topic.

I do this too, minus the moving lips. For me it goes like this:

I feel hurt by someone and mull and pray over the issue, trying to figure out exactly what's bothering me. When I reach some clarity and have a handle on my feelings, I figure out how I would explain my point of view if I were talking to the person. What supporting facts and examples would I present? I make my case as persuasively as I can. Finally I imagine myself talking to him or her, laying it all out. I anticipate the person's possible excuses or resistance, and then I counter the assertions with my own rebuttals.

Then I do it again. And again. And again. In a few days, I may explain my feelings to the person in my head a dozen times - typically in correlation with how upset I am about the issue.

The process contains some wisdom and some foolishness. It's wise to know my own inner thoughts and emotions, and to press into an issue to determine what's driving my emotional response. It's wise to pray about the matter and allow God to bring out insights and truth. And it's wise to bring the issue to the person with whom we have conflict (Matthew 18:15), when and as the Lord provides the right opportunity.

But it's foolish, after God has shed light on the issue, to dwell on it and to turn it over and over in my mind. Rehearsing the conversation in my head makes me overly indignant and inflames my anger, resentment, and self-pity. It generates an exaggerated picture of myself as a victim. I find I love the person less and less with each rehearsal. By the time I actually approach him, I have zero grace and in fact am often seething.

In our technology-laden world, though, where cell, email, and text dialogue is omnipresent and face-to-face conversations are increasingly rare, there's often an unavoidable time lapse between reflecting on a matter and discussing it. Our bosses might be traveling; our mothers-in-law may have left town; our husbands might be mentally absorbed by work till the weekend. Wisdom may require us to wait, which is the rub, since waiting is where the sin can enter - if it's accompanied by continual hitting of the mental repeat button.

June 17, 2008 at 12:53 PM

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