“You don’t have to say everything you are thinking.”
Through the years, I’ve heard this countless times from one of my mentors and best friends. I’m excessively expressive. A conversation with me can feel like running a marathon while drinking from a firehose while standing under an avalanche. I’m terrible at keeping a poker face and I don’t just wear my emotions on my sleeve, I put them up on billboards around town to make sure everyone knows what I’m thinking.
Not only can this be exhausting for my closest friends, it can also limit and hurt some other relationships. When I was younger, I lived with just enough self righteousness to to hide behind a shallow rationale: “Well it’s the truth, why can’t I say it?” I’ve learned–still learning, if I’m honest–that I don’t need to say everything I’m thinking. I don’t need to respond every time my feelings are hurt or I get angry or I think something is wrong.
On the surface, Proverbs 26:4-5 seems to offer conflicting instructions:
- “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”
- “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
Once you have done significant reflection, you have to determine if you are going to “answer” (respond) or not. This Scripture gives us two guidelines to keep in mind: (1) we should speak up if we can keep from being foolish ourselves and (2) we should seek to help the other person gain wisdom. If we can’t fulfill these two criteria, we shouldn’t say anything.
These are tough criteria! In many situations they are impossible without God’s grace.
Many conflict avoiders do so with the rationalization that they are simply “keeping the peace.” But this often isn’t true because the war is still raging in your heart. In the midst of conflict, what motivates you to speak up or stay silent?