Do you ever feel like no matter what you say, it’s going to come out wrong, or worse, not at all? Like when introducing your friend and editor of your very first book to a gathering of women at YOUR church and you forget her name in front of God and everyone?!? Nothing says “I love and appreciate you for your tireless effort of cleaning up my writing and rambling” more than, “Oh my gosh, what is your name!!!” Talk about wanting to run screaming from the room….
Even our best intentions at encouragement, comfort, or reassurance often take flight only to drop with a nearly audible thud right in front of us. Like when you’re at the funeral of say, a former pastor that you love and respect, who is grieving the loss of his wife, and say something like, “She is finally well again, at peace with loved ones…waiting for you!”
Ok, I confess. That was me. I did those things. I often draw a blank when it comes to people’s names. It gets worse, though. In an effort to go the extra mile and call new members of our church by their first name, I addressed a kind older woman by the name of Vivian…She always responded and answered, but her name was Marge, or Martha, or something else. I honestly don’t know. For some strange reason, I don’t see her around anymore. Argh!!!
At the funeral, I was sincerely trying to be reassuring, but WOW, did that come out all sorts of wrong! Fortunately, he is a very gracious man and knew what I had meant to convey.
These kinds of things happen to me a lot though…
Later that same day, while eating lunch with the family of the dearly departed, a young woman beside me rubbed her tummy laughingly saying, “my baby is growing!” to which, I responded, “Oh, congratulations, how far along are you?” She giggled and said, “I’m not pregnant!! Do I look it?” As the blood drained from my face and my jaw dropped like that of a cartoon character, I frantically backpedaled as quickly as I could….stammering I said, “I thought I overheard you just say your baby is growing?” To which she announced to everyone else at the table, “Oh, my gosh, she thinks I’m pregnant!!”
Please, shoot me now.
Social embarrassment is a part of life, granted something that most of us work VERY hard to avoid, but it’s going to happen. Especially if you, like me, are often in a place of leadership, or find yourself stepping in when there appears to be an awkward silence— we are determined to make it better, but occasionally, we flat out make it worse!
Proverbs describes saying the right thing at the right time in verses like: “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!” (Prov 15:23)
Don’t we all wish our words could be timely and perfectly fitting for each circumstance?
But sometimes, or often as is my case, our reply is not suitable or even remotely intelligent! So what good are these instances? There are no Scriptural passages that bespeak of the “grandeur of placing thy foot in thy mouth!”
I can’t lay out a whole host of benefits to these moments of embarrassment except what I personally gain from them: humility. This is not intended to be a humble-brag about humility— I am honestly admitting that I have humiliated myself on countless occasions but it doesn’t have to be such a terrible thing. Especially for those of us who, let’s be real now, struggle with pride.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Prov 11:2
I am not suggesting that each time we misspeak, or make honest mistakes that it is our pride that has led us to it or necessarily caused it BUT our pride can keep us from admitting our mistake or addressing an area that needs attention.
Pride inevitably leads to a downfall— Old Testament teachings stressed that God would actually resist those with proud hearts, but thankfully, it doesn’t end there. The hope we have is that if we have been humbled, we can grow in wisdom!
It is a rather unusual way to get where we want to go—much like Jesus’s instructions to his disciples: to be the first, you must be the last, to save your life, you must lose it, the least among you will be the greatest, to lead you must serve, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. These counter-cultural approaches can be difficult to understand and even more so to practice.
Growing in wisdom is no exception. It sometimes takes doing the opposite of what comes natural- and in the case of saying the wrong things or saying it at the wrong time, our natural response is to shift attention away from our mistake rather than to own it and grow from it. Many people don’t make this about-face. They continue down the path of defensiveness, ignorance, and pride, but we all know how that usually ends up.
Or we can do what is counter-cultural and humbly admit when we have blown it and determine to glean something from the experience. And therein lies our hope!
We need not be discouraged when we fail to have just the right words to say, or know the exact time to say them. If we determine to learn from these experiences, and embrace humility, we can develop the wise approach to giving a timely answer and the apt reply others seek from us!
“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matt 23:12