You have been waiting in line for such a long time and rehearsed your words. You have admired this woman from a distance, wondering how she has coped with so much sorrow and pain. In your heart you think, “You are such a strong person. I don’t know how you do it. If it were me, I’d just give up and die.” The line moves a bit, words are spoken by those who came to comfort her and the family. You are anxious to just console her in some way. Two more people in front of you. Finally! Now you can say what you have been thinking and so you say, “Why don’t you give up and die!” And you realize only an instant too late, something went wrong.
The woman you so admired has such a shocked look on her face, but nothing like yours. Now you are dumbstruck. You are afraid to say anything else, for fear of making it worse. You are left standing there, mumbling, “so sorry,” walking away realizing you just said something most regrettable. It happens.
Sometimes we try to speak our minds, and it just comes out…badly. Sometimes, we say what we should never have said at all. Sometimes our intentions do not quite match the words we use.
Are there examples of this in the Bible? You might not expect so, but it is quite possible. Look at the example of Job’s wife: “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9–10). Did this mean she was not in anguish watching her husband suffer? She was grief-stricken herself. Seven sons and three daughters ripped away from her as well as Job. Were there grandchildren? Who was consoling her? And then to have her husband afflicted with the worst sores possible!
She could have been wondering the same thing we might have: “How much more can he stand? Death would be a welcome relief to me. I can’t take anymore!”
Three friends came to comfort Job. Who came to her side? As his wife and caretaker of his household, would she not be the one to care for him with no children to relieve her? Job was an incredibly wealthy man. What happened was devastating, shocking and heart-rending. All that was theirs was gone and she had no reason for it all. The story was of Job, not his wife. The only written words from her seem hateful and angry. On the surface, the words may sound cruel, but her grief, anguish and probable anger were real.
Maybe at some point in time—if that exact moment we spoke is not a good one—we might just tell the person our words came out so incredibly wrong. Sometimes just being there when someone is overwhelmed in sorrow is enough. Giving a hug, crying with the person or persons, holding their hands while they talk of their loved one. As Christian women we could be a good ear or shoulder for them. Trying to be of service to those who are heart-broken will lessen the probability of fumbling for words and causing misunderstandings.
We follow examples written for us in the Book of Psalms: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 143:3). Also we are to seek wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Learning to be tactful in all areas of our Christian lives will help out when these circumstances present themselves.
It certainly sounds easy, doesn’t it? We will never be totally free of these incidents, but maybe we can lessen them, or the impact upon others and ourselves. The next time we approach someone to console them or to compliment them, our words may be more “fitly spoken.”