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Idle Talk

August 23, 2007 Length: 8:07

We pray the prayer of St. Ephraim during Great Lent and understand the big items, but what about this one?

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As far as waiting rooms are concerned, this one was a disappointment – no Thomas the Train table, no miniature chairs, no kid’s books save for the one issue of Highlights Magazine that we already had at home. And it was packed with people, none of whom were emanating any child friendly vibes that might put me more at ease while I shushed the relentless whining: “Mom, you said this would take just a few minutes? I’m thirsty! How much longer?”

But just as I was confiscating the illustrated article on the slaughtering of Gorillas in Uganda from four-year-old Benjamin, lo and behold did a knight in shining armor waltz through the jingling glass door wearing Capri pants and clutching an American Girl Doll. Vanessa, I will call her, who looked to be about eleven or so, sat down next to her mother and proceeded to open a mouth that would not close again until after our eventual departure. Catching six-year-old Priscilla’s obviously staring eye, Vanessa invited her to come on over and get a closer look at Kit, the Depression Era representative within American Girl’s highly popular doll line who, ironically, was carrying a cell phone. “Maybe I better hold on to that,” said Vanessa gently dislodging it from my daughter’s fist. “That thing alone costs like forty bucks.” Before long, Vanessa had captivated, with her knack for colorful story telling, all of my children’s undivided attention. “Thank goodness,” I thought, before losing myself in a two-year-old issue of National Geographic.

Within ten minutes, everyone in the doctor’s office knew more than they should about the credit card bill causing tension in Vanessa’s family, about her uncle who gives his four-year-old anything and everything she desires (much to the consternation of his siblings), and the exact cost of most of Vanessa’s possessions. “She’s a talker,” her mother mouthed to me, looking more and more uncomfortable with each of her daughter’s revelations. It wasn’t until Vanessa’s provocative announcement that she knew for a fact her mom and dad had not kissed since the day of their wedding, and that anytime her dad came close to her mother she demanded he back off and take a shower, that Vanessa’s mom finally said, “Stop. That is enough!”

“Even when he does take a shower,” Vanessa added quickly, “she still won’t kiss him.”

Never one to be outdone, Benjamin chimed in with a tidbit about his father. “My dad,” said Benji, “has to see the doctor about a sore…”

“Sh-h-h!!!” interrupted Priscilla, picking up on Vanessa’s mother’s not so subtle suggestion that family secrets were not to be shared.

After a slightly uncomfortable pause, I felt the responsibility to vindicate my husband from the embarrassing assumptions of his fellow patients. “Shoulder,” I clarified for those within earshot. “Your dad is seeing the doctor about his shoulder.”

Somewhere between the outright sin of slander and the nobility of words used to encourage, uplift, and speak the truth, lies the seldom-explored abyss of idle talk. “This, too, must be tempered?” I thought to myself after first reciting the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim. “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth (yes, that makes sense…I’ve wasted lots of hours avoiding work by playing around on the computer), despair (oh boy, now there’s an issue I’ve wrestled with half my life), lust of power (H-m-m, interesting. I suppose I have hungered for control over my children, my husband, and even my acquaintances), and idle talk (Whoa, where do I begin with this one?).

The entire time you’re speaking, I wait for a chance to interject because I know something pertinent to the subject matter, because I’ve been to that place your describing, because I like the sound of my voice and how it complements our conversation. But then later, I’ll replay that dialogue in my head, evaluating to death every superfluous syllable that, in hindsight, could have easily been left unsaid. From start to finish, from the initial urge to be heard to the subsequent regret of having never truly listened, the outpouring of my thoughts and energy land squarely upon my own person. I am so concerned, too concerned, with myself.

Before I discovered Orthodoxy, before I became so “salvation as a process” oriented, so ultra aware of the thousands of daily decisions made for myself alone, I was contented with staying clear of the “biggies”: lies, verbal abuse, and vicious gossip. It honestly never occurred to me that expressing my position on any number of controversial topics, sharing juicy information under the guise of Christian concern, updating my family on exactly how hard I work around here, and looking for opportunities to casually toss out accolades I’ve received, could slowly erode my desire to be wholly defined as a follower of Jesus Christ.

“But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment,” said Jesus in the book of Matthew. Imagine, all of our arrogant assertions, all of our nagging and whining, all of the out of context statements weve passed off as totally legitimate information, being aired on a loudspeaker in front of God and everyone. And now imagine the reverse, the release of neither hating nor adoring ourselves, of never feeling desperate to either promote or defend our own agendas. Imagine, just imagine, having the freedom, the confidence, and the discipline to stay quiet. “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise,” we sing with David in Psalm 51. Even in this, the decision to speak or stay silent, I cannot be trusted, without Christ’s direction, to choose wisely. Or in other words, if I don’t have anything edifying, praiseworthy, or positive to say, if I feel anxious to articulate my personal opinions, if I am not in a state of prayerful submissiveness, it is far better to say absolutely nothing.

So try me again. Let’s sit down together and use the privilege of our voices to promote strength, courage, and godliness. Let me hear you, this time with ears not muffled by selfishness and insecurity. Let us laugh, cry, or discuss what’s in our hearts at the Holy Spirit’s bidding. Let me seize the opportunity to be a better friend, daughter, sister, wife, mother, customer, co-worker, and neighbor by shutting up and tuning in, by saying nothing that could deflect from your God-given worth and importance to me- absolutely nothing at all.


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