How to Speak Wisely When You Don’t Know What to Say
When I was a little girl my parents used to warn me, “think before you speak.” I’ll chalk the admonition up to the unhindered speech of a child, but nevertheless, it was repeated enough that it stuck.
Whether the eagerness of youth or the pitfalls of heightened emotion, it’s fair to assume that every one of us has fallen prey to some form of verbal vomit only to later wish we could swallow back every word.
The advent of social media has proven to widen the danger zone. We’ve become a culture of instant emotional gratification. Feelings enters in and reaction follows, with multiple public forums at our fingertips. There seems to be a unique kind of courage, a previously guarded boldness, that emerges from behind the safety of a computer screen and smartphone.
If we paused to think before we spoke, would we share more words … or less?
Perhaps it’s the wisdom of age or my parent’s advice proving useful (who woulda’ thought), but I’ve found myself biting my tongue with even greater frequency these days.
In the face of hyper-frequent global tragedies, increasing political interests, or even the unexpected phone call that one you hold dear has received a devastating blow, we can often find ourselves searching for the right words.
As Christians – followers of Christ – our words should breathe life and grace, not breed contention and division.
While words are purposeful and give voice to thought and emotion, used in the wrong combination they can derail even the best of intentions. Paired with the worst, words can simply be explosive.
As Christians – followers of Christ – our words should breathe life and grace, not breed contention and division. We are held to a higher standard, called to carry the blood-bought purpose of the gospel, which at its very core is love.
We’ve also been given fair warning. James 3:8 tells us that the tongue is restless, evil even. That’s the polar opposite of love, and left unguarded our words can be a tool the enemy enlists to steal the integrity of the gospel.
As a woman, wife, mom, sister-in-Christ, my heart’s desire is that the words that come from my mouth be authentic and true. But above all else, I want them to rest firmly on the side of grace and love; on the side of Jesus. Sometimes that means I say nothing at all.
Other times it’s necessary to speak up – to comfort, encourage, link arms, even correct. So how can we use our voice wisely when we can’t seem to find the right words?
1. Offer God’s truth.
When crisis hits, it can be hard to know what to say – and it’s okay to acknowledge that. As believers, we can feel compelled to manufacture a “holy” response, but the last thing a hurting heart needs is canned Christianese. While our opinions and ideas are valuable, they are far from the absolute truth of the bible. Simply sharing a scripture or promise that has personally encouraged us can be a beautiful balm. And remember that grace and love? God’s word is best received when offered, rather than inflicted.
“Instead, we will speak the truth in love…” Ephesians 4:15
2. Speak words that unite.
Not everyone will agree with what we say, nor we with them, but our chances of being impactful are greater if people keep listening versus running for the hills. If our goal is to unite, our words should build a bridge toward trust, rather than tear it down. When we speak words of understanding (I value your opinion, what you’re saying matters to me), we show that our willingness to listen supersedes our need to be heard – or to be right. We may still part on opposite sides of the aisle, but we don’t have to part as enemies.
3. Share words of invitation.
Jesus modeled a willingness to invite the unexpected and outcast to the table. In a world that is divided – politically, financially, socially – so many people have an inherent desire to belong; to be seen. You may not be lead to invite someone to your dinner table, but how about inviting them into a shared moment of human kindness. A simple hello, how are you, or even a genuine smile can span the greatest differences and be a stepping stone to larger conversation.
“Salvation: not by muscle but by love.” A.W. Tozer
Words lifted high are by far the worthiest and most powerful use of our voice. Offering prayer as an immediate solution to an unsolvable problem can take the pressure off of us and relinquish power to an Almighty God. And let’s face it – often we feel downright powerless. The words don’t have to be fancy or articulate; all it takes is a humble heart. And if the idea of praying out loud terrifies you, offer the assurance that you will intercede in your own time, and then do so.
5. Those who can’t speak, do.
Maybe you can’t find the words, and you don’t plan to either. If the very idea of speaking to someone leaves you in a cold sweat, pursue the practical. Cook up dinner for a struggling co-worker, mow the lawn for your ill neighbor, or offer to take over carpool for the overwhelmed mom at school. My parents also taught me that actions speak louder than words – right again!
Whether the occasion merits lengthy words or none at all, might we each seek to use our voice with an acute understanding that we don’t simply represent our own interests, but those of a Savior worthy of our effort to ensure that all we say and do brings Him glory. And for those of us with a chronic case of verbal vomit, might we be ever grateful that He is also a God of second (and third) chances.
Tiffany Parry is a wife and mom who dwells in the sunshine (and smog) of Southern California. She’s a lover of words who purposes to use hers to speak God’s truth with grace and authenticity.