Sometimes my mouth gets me into trouble. Well not really sometimes, but often my mouth get’s me into trouble – there, I’ve said it. You would think that for someone who had a career in marketing, public relations, and strategic communications that I would be able to sound rather diplomatic when expressing myself verbally. But, alas, it is not that way for me. The definition of tact is a heightened sense of what to say to avoid giving offense to the receiver. So I guess you could say that I experience times of being tactless, many, many times over.
At least at this age, at this time in my life, I know and can identify that there are times (not always) that I have all these things that I am just bursting to say out loud, but I don’t because I know that most likely the words that will come out of my mouth, even though they are true, are going to sound offensive, snotty, or aggressive. I know that those words that I want to speak will hurt someone’s feelings, or portray me, my beliefs, or even worse, my faith in a negative manner. Often I will say to my husband, I want to tell so-and-so this, but I know better because it will come across in the wrong way.
Sure, there are times that I can be diplomatic, and I truly love those times, but it seems to me that those times are few and far between. It would be nice, so very nice, if those times that I need to tell someone that they are off base, that I could use the tact and diplomacy that will convey the message in a positive and helpful manner.
What we have to say matters, especially when it’s the truth. But even more so, in my opinion, it’s how we say it that matters the most. The words from my mouth can help or they can harm. They can build up or tear down.
For instance, I am reminded of a time many years ago when I was sitting with a friend and his wife. My friend, whom I had known for many years, is Jewish. His wife professes to be Christian. The discussion came around to religion and the Christian faith. The friend was having a difficult time reconciling himself with Jesus’ comment “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV). His wife was upset because that view, the Christian view, purports that her husband, the man that she loves, would not be in heaven. They asked me my viewpoint, and I responded that the Bible supports the view that the only way to the Father is through Jesus. And therefore the implication was that to be admitted into Heaven requires faith in Christ, therefore being Christian. My answer was frank and to the point. I stated the truth, but the delivery was severely lacking. As a result both my friend and his wife were offended. Truth – yes. Delivered with love and tact – no. Results – offense and hurt, which were hardly the right atmosphere to strengthen the wife’s young faith, nor invite her husband into the faith. As I look back, I most likely caused more harm than good.
It is that real-life, painful experience, which is an example of what I wish to avoid in the future. From time to time I think back on that conversation and sometimes wish that I could hit the rewind button and deliver the message in a manner that conveyed the truth with love. I no longer see, nor have contact, with these former friends, and that conversation is probably one of the biggest reasons right there.
I know that this paragraph will sound like I’m changing the subject, but hang in there with me. Out of all of the books in the Bible, I would have to say that the Old Testament Book of Job is one of my least favorites. I’ve read the book several times over, and frankly I really didn’t want to do it again, but right now I’m going through the Chronological Bible, and where are we? Yup, in the book of Job. To me it’s a painful book to read, it goes on and on, and on with rounds of speeches which take up most of the 42 chapters in the book. Speeches between Job and his “friends” take up chapters 3 – 37, that’s 34 chapters of speeches back and forth where Job is accused of sin, at times rather forcefully, by his “friends,” and Job fires back. Thirty-four very long and painful chapters for this reader. But, even so there are valuable lessons that we can learn from this Old Testament book.
Based upon the Book of Job, Wendy Pope developed some points on what to do when we have to speak truth into others. I love these points, and I love Wendy’s analysis. First and foremost when we come alongside of someone who is experiencing a devastating situation we should:
1. Make sure that we align ourselves with God. What does that mean? To me, it means that we ourselves are in connection with God. We want to move forward in words and actions that are pleasing to God. We allow God to guide our actions, we seek to hear His voice before we act.
2. Grieve with our friend over their situation. In the Old Testament book of Job, calamity upon calamity befalls Job. After his three friends hear of what happens to Job, they join him right where Job is at to show him sympathy and comfort.
3. Give ourselves time without speaking. We should not jump right into discussion of the situation with our friend, we should not start doling out advice. We need to first sit with them, right where they are at – without speaking! For most of us, especially me, that’s not an easy thing to do at all. Yet, despite all the things that Job’s friends do wrong, they do come to Job and sit with him for seven days in silence. Seven days!
4. When it’s time to speak, we need to gauge the conversation so as not to speak too soon, or to strong. Another tough one for me. Perhaps it’s because I am sorely lacking in the spiritual gift of mercy, but even so, I could work on this one.
5. Give Biblical insight. In other words, speak the truth in love, and this again is where my mouth gets me into trouble. The tact that is sorely needed, and the amount of which I don’t normally have, foils me on this step. Wendy suggests that we direct the conversation around to seeing what Scripture has to say.
In that situation with my former friends that I mentioned above, had I taken the time to align myself with God, say a prayer asking God to give me the right words, with the right attitude, perhaps I could have averted the situation. But, I felt pressured to give an answer right away, and my mouth got me in trouble. And that’s one of the biggest reasons that I now, occasionally, don’t speak what immediately comes into my mind, because I truly want to spare others from the hurt that my mouth can so readily inflict.
How about you? Are you able to talk to others with the tact and diplomacy to deliver messages of truth with love?
Do you have any pointers for me? If so, please share them.
Paul said: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15, ESV)
Paul also said: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)
David said: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalms 19:14, ESV)