We should speak gently and seriously with words that are weighty and restrained. We should be brief and reasonable in whatever we have to say and not raise our voices to insist on our own opinions.
-The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 7
On a sticky note above my desk, I’ve written the words: “Speak gently, truthfully, simply.” That phrase comes from David Robison’s book The Family Cloister and it’s his application Benedict’s instructions above (44).
There are some aspects of Benedict’s Rule that have been fairly practical to apply to my life. The liturgy of the hours: my attempt at prayer five times a day? Either I’m praying or I’m not. It’s clear. Even my application of Benedict’s call to hospitality is fairly clear. I am at least aware of when I’m open to the people around me. I can recognize the distinction between a longing to serve and my natural selfish inclinations. But most of what Benedict writes about how his monks are to speak is challenging on several levels.
First of all, as the book of James so eloquently reminds us, “…no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Chapter 3, verse 8). It’s always seemed that of the changes that have taken place in my mind and heart throughout my faith journey, my “tongue” has been the last to change. In high school, I constantly prayed about how to stop gossiping. In college I was attempting to get over myself and my need to impress everyone I came in contact with. Actually, now that I mention it, ten years later I’m still working on that one. Now the longing has just evolved from a college-aged need to be adored, both by boys and the general population of my school, to a more grown up version. Now, I want people to think I’m interesting and funny. I want to spout lovely wisdom about motherhood to other women on the playground. I want to sound smart.
It’s difficult to check my motives during conversations. I like talking and I like the process of engaging. The moment my mind turns from the conversation at hand to my own awareness of what I’m speaking, I’ve lost that engagement with the other person. I’m awkward.
Also, though I grasp that my application of Benedict’s words would result in my being the kind of woman I long to be—gentle, aware, wise, kind, deep—I’m also fairly turned off by his desire that his monks speak “seriously.” At another point, Benedict requests that his monks avoid “talk leading to laughter” (Chapter 6). Though I’ve heard it explained away by a few commentators that Benedict truly means careless laughter or laughter brought on by anything that devalues someone else (which I can get behind), it often sounds like Benedict is shaking all the fun out. When I read his words, my eyes glaze over. I like to laugh. I’m sarcastic. I come from a sarcastic family (case in point, here and here). And when I arrived on the East coast, where sarcasm reigns and the greatest form of heart to heart communication, I was in heaven. I know from firsthand sarcasm can hurt people. But, for the most part, it’s still funny. I love my husband’s ability to dryly add commentary to every situation in our lives. Please don’t take away the funny, Benedict!
So, this is where I am. I’m the girl walking past the sticky notes: Gently, Truthfully, Simply, everyday breathing out small prayers that those three words might somehow describe what comes out of me. I know who I want to be, but I’m not sure how to get there.
Last week, I found myself at Mom’s Group Bible study, full of what I felt were pretty profound things to say about our passage of study. But everyone else kept beating me to it. I could not get what I wanted to say out. Then there was a sweet little Spirit tap in me that said, “Maybe what you want to say isn’t that profound, and maybe it doesn’t even matter.”
Ahhhhh. I thought. That’s right. I can practice being restrained.
And so I kept my profound thought to myself. At least for a few more minutes until I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
What do you think? What does it mean in your daily life to speak gently, truthfully and simply? What does it mean for you to speak words that are “weighty and restrained”?