The wisdom of silence
I like making people laugh. It’s my way of getting to know someone, breaking the ice, or smoothing over an awkward social situation. Sometimes it’s a good thing: it puts people at ease, and lets them know I’m on their side. Sometimes it works really well as a way of starting a friendship, or healing a misunderstanding.
But making people laugh can also be a defense mechanism for me. There are times when I jump too quickly to make a joke — maybe to deflect from my own embarrassment, or to show off to someone who I’m trying a bit too hard to impress. Or sometimes it’s just because I don’t know what else to say. I cringe when I think of all those times I’ve made some clumsy joke, when really I should have just kept my mouth shut and listened.
The writer of Proverbs has much to say on the wisdom of keeping one’s mouth shut. When words are many, he writes in chapter 10, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. And he goes on:
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,Proverbs 17:27-28
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
Sometimes I need to remember that it’s not my job to fill every gap in the conversation. Sometimes I need to have the discipline to be silent, to listen, and to learn.
The wisdom of speaking
But this is not true in every situation. There are other times I can recall when I’ve kept silent in a conversation out of fear, and later regretted it. There are countless moments I can think of in my life where I should have spoken up, but didn’t: to defend a person being treated unfairly; to prevent a wrong decision being made; to speak truth to power, when I was scared of how that power might react.
Proverbs acknowledges, too, that in some situations we are called to use our voices! Silence is not always the answer:
Open your mouth for the mute,Prov 31:8-9
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
So it seems Scripture is telling us both things! We should speak, and we should keep silent. Which is right? Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes sums it up best:
There is a time for everything,Ecclesiastes 3:1,7
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak
There’s a time for silence, and there’s a time for speaking. The challenge is knowing which is which.
If I’m honest with myself, I usually do know whether that still, small, Holy Spirit voice inside me is calling me to speak out, or to keep silent. I just need to slow down and be obedient to that voice, instead of letting my fears and insecurities drive me.Lord, grant me the wisdom to know when to keep silent, and the discipline to do so. And grant me the wisdom to know when to speak out, and the courage to do so. Click To Tweet