The Value of Balanced Conversations
Do you ever have those moments when you walk away from a conversation and think to yourself, I talked WAY too much? Or maybe the opposite is true, and you walk away thinking, Why didn’t I say more?
The other day I was having a difficult conversation, and it wasn’t until about an hour later that I thought of all the “brilliant” things I could have said. But my brain didn’t connect with my tongue in the moment. I also remember numerous conversations where I wished my brain had made my tongue silent. Too much said can inflict wounds and too little said may leave wounds unattended.
Finding balance is the key. In his brilliant guide to spiritual community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that silence comes out of solitude whereas speech flows from community. When we enter solitude, silence allows us to listen to the Word speak. When we enter community, speech follows listening for the good of others. Listening is the doorway for talking, and when we fail to listen we fail to have meaningful speech.
Bonhoeffer puts it this way: “Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech” (Life Together, 78). Silence does not create solitude just as chatter does not create community. But when we enter into solitude with ears to hear, silence is a gift of healthy communication. Likewise, when we enter into community with a listening heart, speech becomes a gift of response rather than a force of one’s will.
I’m often uncomfortable with silence, because I’ve grown so accustomed to noise and chatter. But as Bonhoeffer says, “Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequences of spiritual stillness” (ibid., 79). Could it be that I fear silence, because I lack spiritual stillness?
In the fellowship of conversation, I quickly want to add my voice in order to prove my worth, but that is the wrong motivation for speech. Silence leads to right hearing, which flows into right speaking for the benefit of others, not for selfish gain.
I challenge you to learn the value of silence and speech. “The Word comes not to the chatterer but to him who holds his tongue” (idem.). And then when we have been in the stillness to receive, we step into community to give our words that should always be “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).
And may we always remember the words of the Teacher:
“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2, ESV).