I’m tired of the many times I’ve left conversations thinking: “Why did I say that?” I went on a search for an inspirational work about how to have better conversations with people.
The book “Keep It Shut” by Karen Ehman caught my eye for the clever cover. Ehman is part of the Proverbs 31 Ministries team, a non-profit Christian organization that speaks to women about their personal relationships with Jesus. The book has a companion study guide, but inside Ehman gives tips on extending this study with a small group.
Now someone on the Goodreads.com did ask if this is a satire. After reading reviews, she was worried Ehman is really a man telling us women to shut our pie-holes. Ehman is a woman — see photo. She does view her audience as women as evidenced by her word choice when talking to the reader. But the reality is women and men will benefit from this study.
“Keep It Shut” is both Bible study and primer on effective communication. Using personal stories, Ehman explores the negative ways we use language through a good part of the book. Toward the end she delves into words of healing and encouragement.
“Our words are powerful and they have consequences,” Ehman says. We speak from “what the heart has stored” (16). Before the words fall from our lips, they’ve percolated inside our hearts and minds. We might surprise ourselves at times by what we say, but those thoughts have either slow-cooked or pressure-cooked (instant-potted?) their way into words. Pulling from the book of James, Ehman opens with what the Bible says about our inability to tame our tongues.
“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” – James 3:7-9
I used to think that meant we were doomed. If we can’t control our mouths, then we will continue to wreck relationships. If you watch Judge Judy, you’ve probably heard her say that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason — to listen more and speak less. But how many of us always take the time to listen and think before speaking? What about those times when we’re angry and not thinking clearly?
Ehman says it’s a heart condition, and the way to bridle the tongue is to turn the reins over to God. Translation: God can control our tongues where we fail. By spending quality time with God reading the Bible and talking to Him, we change our inner environment. We can ask God for help with what we are to say and to not say – to type or not to type – on social media sites.
“…The most important thing is responding to the Holy Spirit’s tap on my heart when He whispers to me, urging me not to say something I’m about to blurt out or nudging me to speak up when I instead want to remain silent,” Ehman says. “Caring for my heart in those moments means asking the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom — to keep silent when that is best, or to give me the right words to say when I just can’t seem to find them.”
I found Ehman’s voice relatable and enjoyable. She’s shares personal stories about her own struggles with taming the tongue. Her study is timely in that so much on social media these days or in the news is often reactionary. Some sources do not fact-check. (I mean Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner are having imaginary babies together. Check out Reese’s Instagram.) Sensational news items sell. What’s worse is when information is manipulated.
Ehman tells the reader not to jump to conclusions when we hear information. A lot of times the information is second hand or hearsay. She also gives tips on how to not spread gossip and hearsay. (Remember: “It stops with me.”) She talks about anger and how to not speak in anger and sin in the process. I took notes on her tips for listening to others as well as on how to reel it in before monopolizing conversations.
In the final chapters, Ehman moves into the best ways we use our words: to encourage and uplift. For 40 days of lent one year, she sent out cards to 40 people in her life, past or present, to encourage them. Along with activities like this one for lifting up others, Ehman gives guidelines to readers to help us make better choices before speaking. My favorite is: “Be a History Changer.”
“Think for just a moment about who in your life might be empowered with some history-changing words from you today. Do you know someone who’s struggling? Someone who does not believe they are worthy? Someone who is his or her own worst enemy? Could you say or write these four powerful words to them today: ‘I believe in you’?”
Can you imagine how much better our social media experiences would be if we all spent more time on becoming a history changer in other’s lives? We could change the negative script running in the minds of people we know.
But first we start with ourselves and the script in our heads. I like the imagery Ehman uses for working on our spiritual lives to lead to rebirth. She says that she needs to have a “deadheading session with the Gardener of my soul” and spend time alone in the quiet, just her and God, to deal with the “dead blooms of sin” (198).
“Whenever we unearth any unclean thing in our hearts, we make room for God’s Word to take root in its place as we invite the Holy Spirit to monitor our mouths and help us avoid relational strife.”
For more information about Karen Ehman and this book, go to https://www.karenehman.com/keep-it-shut/.
To learn about Proverbs 31 Ministries (as well as COMPEL training for Christian writers), go to https://www.proverbs31.org/.