When I was a kid, my stepdad used to play this game with us. He called it “The Quiet Game”. Mostly, I’m sure, because “The Get These Kids to Finally Shut the Heck Up Game” takes too long to say.
The game went like this. We’d be driving somewhere; he at the helm, my mom sitting silently in the passenger seat, and my little brother Joe and I chattering happily in the back seat.
Mike would holler, “Quiet game. I’ve got a quarter for whoever can stay quiet the longest.”
And I wanted to win, ya’ll. Desperately. With everything in me, I wanted to finally get my shot at glory and the delicious weight of a shiny silver coin in my pocket.
So I’d vow to myself, this time I’m gonna do it. Joe is just a baby- two and a half years younger than me! Why do I let him show me up all the time? I’m gonna just look out the window and be completely silent. I’ll focus this time. My lips are sealed…
Determinedly, I’d stare out the window, watching trees flash by. For a minute, maybe two, until…
I’d forget. Forget about The Quiet Game. Forget all my grand plans. Forget about that gorgeous shiny quarter. My mouth would pop open, and I’d speak.
Every. Single. Time.
Frustrated, my stepdad would call a new game, always with the same results.
My brother made a killing off my inability to hold my tongue. All the quarters. Seriously.
And it seems that the older I’ve gotten, the higher the stakes of The Quiet Game have gotten. I’m not playing for quarters anymore. Now the strength of my marriage, the trajectory of my career, and the depth of my friendships all frequently depend on my ability to hold my tongue.
Those who guard their mouths and their tongues
keep themselves from calamity. ~Proverbs 23:21
And, dear goodness, most days keeping quiet feels just as impossible as when I was 7 years old, staring out that car window.
I honestly intend to keep my mouth shut this time, to not let loose any criticism, gossip, or harsh words. I have great intentions. I know the stakes are high and I play to win.
Until, well… I just forget. My mouth pops open, and I speak. Just like old times.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing. ~Proverbs 12:18
And the consequences of my lack of self-control have been staggering.
With my tongue I have deeply wounded those I love. I have broken confidence. I have caused division.
Silence is not, and has never been, in my nature, ya’ll. All these words buzz around in my chest, pushing against my throat, pressing and pushing for release, until, highly pressurized, they burst forth.
Terrified by the destructive power of my own mouth, I long ago began praying desperately for “Holy Duct Tape.” I have begged the Holy Spirit again and again over the last dozen years to seal my mouth.
But Daddy has not acquiesced to my request. In fact, he has done just the opposite of shutting me up.
Lately, I’ve been called to speak.
In my professional life, I’m a teacher, constantly speaking. Even when I’m not standing in front of a classroom, I’m writing lessons or producing videos. And the things I teach have consequences far beyond the classroom. They influence how my students view the world, each other, and themselves.
In my personal life, I’m raising four beautiful daughters. The things I say have an immense impact on their well-being. A generation of young women are being molded by the words I speak over them.
Even in my spiritual life, I am drawn to words. God has given me this platform, my blog, from which to speak. Frequently, I feel compelled to speak God’s word over people when engaged in conversation, whether encouragement, instruction, or even rebuke. Why, what was once a great weakness of mine, intercessory prayer, approaching the throne to speak boldly on behalf of others, is lately becoming a strength.
Frankly, such license to speak can be petrifying. The more I dwell on it, the more my anxiety rises. Doesn’t God get how dangerous a thing my tongue is? What if I say the wrong thing?
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit. ~Proverbs 18:21
Sweetly, God answers that he is not my stepdad. He isn’t sick of my incessant chatter. He does not want me to finally shut up already so he can hear himself think. He simply asks me to use the power of my tongue for good and not for evil. As a balm on wounds, cool water to the thirsty, and a light in the dark.
The problem has never been that I spoke, but rather, what I spoke.
And what a relief, he promises to give me the right words.
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. ~Isaiah 50:4
Morning by morning.
One thing I’ve learned in this battle to control my tongue: I’ve got to make sure that the first person I speak to each day is the Lord.
Nowadays, as soon as I wake up, I grab my cup of coffee and head to my spot on the couch. In the quiet of dawn, I spend an hour or two with Daddy, just He and I. We talk. Either out loud or on paper, I pour out all those words spinning and buzzing inside me. Some morning it’s a paragraph; most days I’ve got pages. I give them all up to my Father who knows my heart.
Then I open my bible, and He answers back. I am finally quiet as I read His Words, as I listen. On the living room couch He meets me, giving me, instead of holy duct tape I asked for, a new heart from which to speak life.
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. ~Luke 6:45