Why We Need To Shut Up

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So I was at a retreat this weekend, a work-heavy retreat, the kind of retreat that isn’t so much a get away thing as it is a jump into the deep end thing.

It was great. And exhausting. And hard.

It was all brainstorming and problem-solving (which I LOVE very, very much). So that was awesome. But also not awesome, because sometimes in brainstorming/problem-solving situations I get too excited and freak out all over everybody with much too much talking and hand-waving and maybe even crying. [I have ideas, people. And I am very passionate about them. Very. Passionate.] As that can be, shall we say…off-putting, I have to exercise a lot of self discipline in these situations.

The last time I participated in a full day of brainstorming I went off the rails.

This time, I prayed about it for a week.

During the retreat we were encouraged to take some time to listen to God. We were told to be completely quiet, even to quiet our thoughts, for ten minutes.

Here’s how that went for Jennifer on the day of a brainstorming/problem-solving marathon:

Inner Voice 1: Let’s think about all the things everyone just said and weigh them and decide which ones are the most helpful.

Inner voice 2: Shut up.

Inner Voice 1: Let’s brainstorm ten more possible ways to re-imagine that environment we were talking about.

Inner Voice 2: Shut up.

Inner Voice 1: I think I’ve said at least seven stupid things today. Let’s go over them all and see who needs an apology.

Inner Voice 2: Shut up.

Inner Voice 1: I am terrible at this. Maybe I’m not made to do this. Maybe I’m just a thinking person. I have so many thoughts. I’m gifted.

Inner Voice 2: Shut up.

Inner Voice 3: Maybe we should count or say a mantra or something.

Inner Voice 2: Fine. 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2…

Inner Voice 1 (over the top of voice 2): This is totally going to work. I think this is how meditation works. It’s just like that guy was talking about in that TED talk. I wish that had been a better talk. If only he’d offered a few practical suggestions…

Inner Voice 2: Shut up.

Inner Voice 3: It’s so pretty outside. Maybe God is talking to me in the sunlight, warming my skin, like a hug…

When we gathered together to share any insight we’d received from God, I didn’t say a word. Because if I’d heard Him, I’m pretty sure the message was, “Shut up.”

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My calling is words. And it’s a tricky calling.

Because very wise people have said things like this:

"Many words mark the speech of a fool." Eccl. 5:3

And this:

"Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions." Prov. 18:2
I read a fascinating article earlier this week titled “There Are No Opinions In This Article.” The point was that in today’s culture, we all feel both entitled and compelled to share our every opinion.
And you know that’s true…
We get on Facebook, Twitter or our blog and sound off, experts in everything:
  • Who’s going to win the game? Who’s fault is it they didn’t win the game? What does the coach need to do this week to prepare for the next game? How long before we should fire the coach?
  • Who’s the best singer on American Idol? Who’s overrated? Who got robbed?
  • What should the preacher preach on more? What should he preach on less? How many minutes should he preach? What about those weird shoes he always wears?
  • Why is the teacher so boring? Is she too hard? Is she too easy? Why does she hate you so much?
  • What should America do in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea?
We all have answers to all the questions.
Even as I write that, my flesh is saying, “Well, I sure do.”
But I don’t.

And because I know, when I’m being most objective, that I don’t have all the answers, I have a responsibility to keep my mouth shut more.

"The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly." Prov. 12:23
That’s so true, right?
How many times have you opened your mouth, spoken too quickly—before you’d listened to the thought, before you’d weighed its worth and its helpfulness—and ended up embarrassed?
How many times have you thought, “I shouldn’t have said that”? I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought it.
According to the writer of Proverbs, wise people don’t talk a lot. He says it a dozen times. And I can hem and haw and try to get around it, but the bottom line is I would be wise to shut up way more often.
Because…

Not everything I think is worth saying.

Not everyone needs to know what I think.

And if I’d take a second and think through my thoughts, pray over them and weigh them, I’d realize that.

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For me, writer of words, shutting up looks like forty two drafts sitting in a folder, drafts of things I’ll probably never publish, ideas you don’t need to hear because they’re self-indulgent or stupid or not very helpful.

It looks like not writing about the Noah movie (even though it would do wonders for my traffic) because I don’t feel compelled to tell you what I think, because my thoughts are neither original nor informed.

In general, it looks like writing more about what I know than what I think.

I’m not always getting this right. But I’m trying.

Outside of writing, in conversations and discussions and meetings, it looks like counting before I talk, training myself out of reflexive speech.

Like really listening to other people without trying to comment or argue.

Like planning my words instead of letting them rush from my mouth like a geyser, inevitable, forceful and chaotic.

And like realizing that most of my thoughts don’t need sharing.

I am not great at this. But I’m trying.

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If today you’re looking for a message from God, I’d be happy to share the message He’s giving me. It’s helpful and simple and re-orienting.

Shut up.