I sat in my dorm room one evening when I was a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I was clicking around on my Gateway desktop computer, probably violating all kinds of piracy laws. It was just after midnight, when I realized that the day that had just passed was my mom’s birthday. I had not called her. Even worse, I had not even thought about her. Yes, I was that self-absorbed.
I hurriedly grabbed my Nokia cell phone (you remember the one) and dialed her number. No answer. So I recorded a message. It was apologetic. It was adoring. It was long. But it was late.
Three minutes of “I’m sorry, I love you” on the day after her birthday could never live up to a simple “happy birthday” on the day of.
Here’s the point…
Saying the right thing at the wrong time is just as improper as saying the wrong thing. Likewise, saying the right thing at the right time in the wrong way can be just as egregious as saying the wrong thing. And likewise, saying the right thing at the right time in the right way to the wrong people is just as unproductive as saying the wrong thing. And likewise (last one, I promise), saying the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right people with the wrong motive is just as unwise as saying the wrong thing.
That’s the thing about the words we use. Their meaning is deeper than their message.
So I’ve been thinking about Proverbs 25:11.
“An idea well-expressed is like a design of gold, set in silver.”
Proverbs 25:11 GNT
I’ve been mulling over what it means to express an idea well. What it means to speak well. To write well. To respect the words and dignify the reader—no matter what.
I get the feeling it’s not about skill. But rather, it’s about tact. Saying the right thing. At the right time. In the right way. To the right person. With the right motive.
This is probably the most precious gift anyone can give. Like a design of gold, set in silver.
Have you ever been given that gift?
The very moment you needed to be encouraged, and someone sent you a life-giving text message.
Or maybe that time your future was hanging in the balance, and you received that acceptance letter or that job offer just in time to restore your sanity (and your bank account).
And consider prayer. In its rawest form, prayer is a simple exchange of words between you and God. And isn’t its power at the mercy of its pertinence? If I pray for you to get that job that you already got last week, my prayers are impeded by their impertinence. If I decide to pray to my cutting board instead of to God, I’m in big trouble. And if my heart isn’t in a posture of reverence, or if I’m cursing God along the way, my prayers are hindered. A good prayer is one that is on message, on time, and on its knees before the Father.
I looked a little deeper into this verse, and found some insight from Matthew Henry. This is not an endorsement of all things Henry, but here is his definition of a “well-expressed idea”:
“A word upon the wheels, that runs well, is well-circumstanced, in proper time and place—instruction, advice, or comfort, given seasonably, and in apt expressions, adapted to the case of the person spoken to and agreeing with the character of the person speaking.”Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole BibleI think this because it’s simple, but it’s sharp. In fact, I think this definition is an indictment of the online social environment most of us live in today.
The blogosphere, the Twitterverse, The Facebook (remember when it was called that?), and the like, are ruled by tactlessness.
Words “spoken” outside of their proper time and place. Words ignorant of their audience. Words full of guile and hypocrisy.
Let’s be real. Some words have no proper time or place. Unworthy of any audience, they’re better left unsaid. And yet these kinds of words are heralded every day on the world wide web.
Harsh words shot like flaming arrows from moms’ basements and cluttered cubicles around the world, aiming for anyone who happens to be in their path. Coarse and curt and critical words that bite first and ask questions later, if at all. Innocent bystanders beware.
I imagine that God, the Master of words, is unshaken but still heartbroken by this. The one who spoke the universe into existence with his own words. Words which were and still are (and always will be) supremely pertinent in every time and place where they are declared. Meanwhile, we exercise our free will by using words that insult and shame and condemn.
I dare not presume that my microscopic corner of the internet will change much about the way we misuse words. But I’ll be over here, just doing my best to handle mine with care. Giving tactfulness the good ole college try. And by God’s grace they will (in the spirit of Matthew Henry) adapt to the life of the person spoken to and agree with the character of the one speaking (that’d be me).
My words here will be about Jesus, and discipleship, and habits, and language, and leadership, and parenting, and culture, and books, and things my grandma says. But mostly, Jesus. In all of his simple splendor and mysterious complexities. He tends to show up in everything I write, say and do.
Inasmuch as my feeble little mind is able, I will put my “words upon the wheels” and release them to run their course. I am hopeful that they will run well.
My prayer is that as you read my words you will open your heart to the echoes of God’s intense love and grand purposes for your own life.
And also that you won’t forget to call your mom on her birthday.