I’ve never been troubled much with it before, but this morning as I sat, pondering ‘the way things are,’ a bothersome thought crossed my mind. The more I dwelt on it, the more it nagged at me . . . something I think I forgot. I’m not sure there’s much I can do about it now. Maybe that’s the reason I was troubled. It has to do with ‘talk.’
You see, an eternity ago, when Marcus, my oldest son, was nearly two, my wife and I began to teach him to talk. He stayed at it, — the talking, I mean — and now he’s an excellent communicator. In fact, he’s a pastor and writer. And when Nathan, our second son came along, when he was about two, we started teaching him to talk. And even after all these years, Nate still talks a lot. Of course, we couldn’t leave Simeon out of the ‘talking’ equation. He’s a licensed marriage and family therapist now, but when he was about two, we began to coach him on how to talk. We tried to get him to mimic us. We pointed to objects like birds and cars and did our best to get him to say those words. We’d had plenty of experience by the time Simeon came along, so our teaching was easier. (And now, Simeon has a son. And Simeon is teaching his son how to talk.)
We probably made fools of ourselves, Randee and me, as we tried to get our kids to talk. We’d laugh at their attempts at language and applaud when they came close to identifying a household object correctly. I believe the sound of a child’s voice is one of the most wonderful sounds God ever created. Every time one of our kids began to talk, it seemed that another note was added to the song of our home. We marveled at these infantile expressions formed in the depths of their own experiences and discoveries.
Teaching our kids to talk brought tremendous joy to Randee and me. We taught them to be careful about their language; that words can hurt; that some words are inappropriate. We taught them the little song, “Be careful, little mouths, what you say.” We wanted them to know the power of the tongue and the harm it can bring if not harnessed.
But there’s a problem I thought of this morning. When my wife and I taught our kids to talk, I don’t ever recall telling them to be thrifty with their words. I don’t ever remember mentioning that words need to be measured and carefully meted out. I never mentioned ‘word-count,’ I guess you could say. I don’t know why I didn’t say something about it then. Maybe I was too enamored with the sounds of their little voices. Maybe I was too busy enjoying their talking.
Talk is good. Talking must be good, because God could have created us all to be mutes if He hadn’t liked the idea of speech. But too much talk—too many words that haven’t been thought out—have a deleterious effect on human beings. As a pastor/teacher, in fact, I think I have a particular vulnerability to making idols out of my idle words. Maybe that’s why I was troubled this morning. A long time ago, while I was busy teaching my kids to talk, it might have been good for me to spend more time trying to teach myself to talk.
The more infatuated I have become with the sound of my own voice, and my own words, the less likely it seems, that I am interested in listening to someone else’s voice, and story, and … life. I need to be careful not to make idol words out of my all-too-frequent idle words. I need to develop the habit of noticing my penchant for going on and on about what I think, my opinions, my pontifications, my fascination with the sound of my own voice.
One pastor friend of mine used to say that if all the words a pastor spoke in a given year were set end-to-end, they’d amount to the equivalent of six novels. And … nobody writes six good books a year.
My dear brothers, take note of this:
Everyone should be quick to listen,
Slow to speak.
(James 1:19 NIV)