At ten years old, our youngest complained about a group leader who talked too much. I encouraged him to be tolerant, pointing out that some people talk more than others and we need to wait patiently for our turn to speak.
My son replied, “But everybody should have a period sitting on their tongue. Mr. Jones never does.”
Purpose of the period
A period is a small dot at the end of sentences to indicate a full stop. In conversation we can’t actually see periods, but people indicate them by pausing slightly. This allows speakers to take a breath and listeners to respond to what’s been said.
In Mark Twain’s humorous tale Roughing It, the main character travels cross-country by stagecoach and meets a passenger unacquainted with the conversational pause. Lamenting his misfortune, the main character says, “The fountains of her great deep were opened up, and she rained the nine parts of speech, forty days and forty nights, metaphorically speaking, and buried us under a desolating deluge of trivial gossip. . . .”
Not all verbosity achieves the biblical status Twain attributes to this fictional woman. Still, less skillful chatterers sometimes force their prey to feign the flu or other temporary illnesses — anything to avoid death by words.
Even the distant whine of a verbose person’s voice pumps enough adrenaline through veins to send the talker’s prey sprinting for cover. Some windy wonders seem to suck oxygen from conversational circles, but no one has yet indicted one for murder. That doesn’t mean that wordiness doesn’t kill.
Excess words slay sermons by suffocating the main point under an avalanche of unnecessary words. Sometimes a group discussion starts out on an interesting route until a word terrorist hijacks the conversation plane and steers it into monologue country, a place few choose to visit.
Bonds and friendship
Anyone can get over losing the crux of a message or an opportunity for dialogue, but the victim of over-talking is often friendship. This loss isn’t easily recovered. Bonds develop during the little pauses after sentences. That’s when others speak and we listen. As they talk, we discover their talents, loves, histories, and styles.
The simple act of listening builds friendship. This works not only with people but also with God. Jesus taught the spare use of words. “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
Listening to Scripture
This can also be applied to reading the Bible. Instead of obsessing about finishing a chapter, read until a scripture grips your spirit, then stop and ponder it.
Once, in the silence that followed a lengthy prayer asking God to change a certain circumstance, I sensed Him say, “There’s a time for what you ask, but it’s not now.” We find the heart-to-heart we crave with God when we intentionally listen.
In Waiting on God, Andrew Murray admits it may be difficult to learn quietness, but he says, “the little season will bring a peace and a rest that give blessing not only in prayer but all the day.”
God speaks; that’s His modus operandi. Hundreds of biblical incidences attest to it. God begins in Genesis with “Let there be light!” From there, His voice punctuates one section of Scripture after another, until the last chapter where Jesus says, “I am coming soon!”
The Old Testament records the Father speaking to prophets, kings, priests, farmers, mothers, fathers, and children. The New Testament shows Jesus speaking to the rich, the poor, the pompous, the political, the religious, the desperate, the sick, and the dead.
Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Because God speaks to people, the relationship award goes not to marathon talkers who pile up words while praying but to listeners who treasure what He says.
Rewards of listening
Mary made the best choice when she sat at Christ’s feet and clung to every word. “Prayer listening” has its rewards: insight into perplexing problems, increased understanding of the Bible, and getting God’s perspective on issues.
It’s always wise to keep a period on our tongues, especially when talking with God.
Scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version.