Have you ever felt that fire in your chest that makes you want to yell the truth? Perhaps you just read a social media post that twisted Scripture. Maybe you heard something on a podcast that didn’t sit well with you. Or perhaps you were at youth group and someone’s answer made you cringe inside. That fire begins to burn and it’s all you can do to refrain from screaming the truth from the rooftops.
As you drive home, you have a fiery conversation with yourself (in your mind or audibly under your breath) about how wrong that comment was and how obvious the truth should be. When you get home, you text a friend (who you already know will agree with you) about the outrageous words you heard. She’s fired up too. With your outrage confirmed, you plot your response.
Dear reader, can I encourage you to hold your tongue, keyboard, or pen a little longer?
An Example of Being Quick to Speak
I’m not speaking from a place of lofty wisdom. I’m writing from experience—experience in getting this wrong.
I stumbled upon an Instagram post that angered me. I couldn’t believe how they’d twisted Scripture and were now misleading their thousands of followers. After ranting to a friend and my husband about it, I couldn’t refrain from sending the original poster a message. I tried to stay as calm and kind as possible, but the fire burned hot and harsh within me. (I may have been passive aggressive).
Afterwards, I sent the post to another friend to complain to her as well. The second friend humbled me; she explained that orthodox Christians do believe what the girl had written, though not in the way I interpreted it. Based on the churches I grew up in and the current theological tradition I subscribe to, I thought the post encouraged heresy. The theological position she holds is one I don’t know very well—though I assumed I did when I messaged her.
I wish I could have taken that message back. But I couldn’t. Instead, I issued an apology as my cheeks burned with shame.
Pausing for Humble Reflection
When we feel that fire inside of us, we need to tame it with a pause. As James wrote to the dispersed Christians, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God,” (James 1:19–20).
How can we practice being slow to speak and quick to hear? By pausing, studying, and listening.
If you’re afraid of forgetting, write down your thoughts and save them in a notebook or document. Leave those words for at least three to seven days. You may find the urgency that your feelings projected on the situation dissipates and you can think much more clearly. You may feel your original anger was a tad silly. Just because everyone else is speaking, writing, or forming opinions quickly about a topic, doesn’t mean you have to as well. If the topic is truly important and your voice is needed on it, it will still be the case a week later.
The wise, seasoned author of Proverbs wrote, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion,” (Prov. 18:2 ESV). Don’t be that fool, friend. Take the necessary time to understand the context and facts of your situation rather than sharing your opinion.
As a writer, it’s tempting to jump on every trending news headline or latest controversy, but I’ve learned that there are times when I’m not the person to contribute to that particular conversation. I don’t have the experience, training, or knowledge to contribute a worthwhile opinion. That lesson doesn’t only apply to writing, but to every ordinary disagreement we may be confronted with.It’s tempting to jump on the latest controversy, I’ve learned that there are times when I’m not the right person to speak. I don’t have the knowledge to form a worthwhile opinion on everything. No one does. Click To Tweet
Ask yourself: Do I know the full story? Do I have the full context? Do I understand the nuances of the conversation and the opposing position? How does my own experience and upbringing limit my perspective?
Humility and Passion Hand-in-Hand
We often equate passion with high emotions and the speed of our reply. Slow, thoughtful replies feel dispassionate, and taking the time to understand our opponent’s (or perceived opponent) position feels too nonchalant for sharing the truth.
However, humility and time don’t quench our passion. Humility doesn’t mean we need to change our theology like the shifting sands of the shore, going to and fro with the waves of whatever others believe. We can stand passionately and humbly in our positions as we implement “I” language in our conversations. “This is what I believe and how I’ve come to believe it,” while also admitting, “Though I know I’m a fallen human with limited understanding.”Humility and time don’t quench our passion. Humility doesn’t mean we need to change our theology. We can stand passionately and humbly in our positions, changing our tone from one of condescension and power to respect and love. Click To Tweet
Humility likewise changes our tone from one of condescension and power (“I’m right and you’re obviously wrong”) to respect and love. We strive to assume the best of those we disagree with, not the worst. We remind ourselves of the hard work it took for them to come to the position they hold. We treat them as we hope they would treat us. Oftentimes, this kind of respect only comes with careful listening, waiting, and reflecting. As Trevin Wax writes,
“What we should seek instead is to discern what is right and true and good in positions we don’t hold, looking to see what aims we might share even if we disagree on the way to get there. We should try to articulate as fairly as possible our opponent’s position, however weak we may conclude it to be. This effort requires us to learn to listen, to consider, and to weigh opinions. At some point, you’ll reconsider something you once believed. It’s possible you believed the right thing for the wrong reason, or that you believed the wrong thing for the right reason. And the only way you’ll know is by weighing opposing perspectives, not waving them off in a flurry of online invective.”
We need to learn to harness the fire into searching and knowing not just our position, but that of those we disagree with.
Humility by Experience
That day when I apologized for my quick message, I learned humility by experience. God will teach us to be humble either by our practice or by allowing us to experience the natural consequences of our pride. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” (Prov. 16:18).
We’re each a work in progress. Each of us will fall in pride and see the destruction of our quick tongues. We can thank God for His grace in forgiving us each time we fall and never throwing His hands up in frustration at our slow learning. But may we each have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the heart to feel the consequences of our pride and what God is seeking to teach us through it.