Monday, January 9, 2012

Simplicity of Speech

Printed in the December 2011 online issue of Light & Life:

In his classic book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster describes simplicity as “an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.” In other words, simplicity is not a set of rules for what to buy, where to take vacations, or what not to wear. Rather, it is a shifting of the heart's focus – off of self, and onto God – which gradually creates changes in the way we live our lives. But these life changes don't stop with us. When we strive for simplicity, there is a trickle-down effect. Choosing to live simply creates a well from which we can draw out blessings for others. Consider: simplicity in spending means having more money to give. Simplicity in accumulation means having more room for guests. Simplicity in speech means having more time to listen.

Jesus gives us clear – if not concise and coolly calculated – instructions on how to steal some hours in our day for listening. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus implores his listeners to “simply let your

'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (v. 37). In making speech more truthful and less verbose, we make room for something more important than our own pretty words. In the same way, it's hard not to miss the point of Jesus' story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple (Luke 18: 9-14). God is unimpressed with cascading, self-righteous prayers. Rather, prayer that strikes right to the heart of the matter – that God is holy, and we are so not – are the most pleasing and acceptable sacrifices.

But it's hard to limit one's words when free speech tops our list of cultural values. While there is a lot of good to be said for web-logging, the major problem with blogs is that everyone has one. If everyone has something to say, is there anyone really listening? The same can be said of other social networking sites. It's easy to be so busy stating your views on the upcoming election, or bragging about your baby's latest milestone, or making witty banter with your coworkers, that you don't hear the tiny, neglected voices of your down-and-outer friends … the ones who just don't have much going on for them right now. Sometimes I like to challenge myself to go ahead and “like” their banal comments, kind of like a virtual nodding of the head – you know, nonverbal language, like we used to have in our conversations.

Please note: I am not at all recommending we quit talking. (After all, the irony of this article's length has not been lost on its author.) The therapeutic value of talking it out is well-known and valid. But perhaps we should examine more closely the people, the place, and the time in which we choose to make our thoughts and feelings known. I often tell my young daughters when they whine, “Alright, I've listened to you. I know how you feel about nap-time. But now it's time to just let it go.” We Christians have some just reasons to complain, but much of the time, we should probably just let it go.

Because here is what's at the heart of simplifying one's speech: when you are careful with your words, you are given a gift. Namely, you are blessed with a little more time on your hands. And why not use that precious time to do something counter-cultural and totally, outlandishly radical? Just ... listen.

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