Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth;
keep the door of my lips.
Curse not the king, no not in thy thought;
and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber:
for a bird of the air shall carry the voice,
and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.
I’ve posted this under the “A Proverb for Today” category, because the topic is a theme that is addressed repeatedly in Proverbs.
Years ago, my wife and I were in a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, when four men sat down at another table. It was quickly apparent they were connected with a Christian institution of higher learning. These gentlemen didn’t modulate their voices — they weren’t unpleasantly loud, but anyone within several tables could hear their conversation.
As they discussed academic and ministry matters, the subject of Pastor X (and one of his ministry decisions) came up. One person asked, “Why in the world would X do that?” Another man responded by directly impugning the motives of Pastor X.
I knew Pastor X personally, and had served in his church. I knew the reason for his decision (it was publicly available), and it had nothing to do with the reason alleged. Though the speaker may not have known it, his statement was slanderous.
Would he have said that if he knew that someone at the next table knew Pastor X?
Maybe two years ago, we were again in a restaurant, in Dunfermline. It was quiet enough that we could talk without being heard at nearby tables.
Four businessmen came in, sat down nearby, and engaged in conversation which, though not loud, could easily be heard. Their topic, after a few minutes, turned to something related to American politics, and American society in general.
These men said nothing wrong or offensive, though they revealed a rather humourous ignorance of certain aspects of America, and especially American politics. They had obviously (and unsurprisingly) accepted the portrayal of America by the BBC and other British media sources. With some comments, Terri and I exchanged smiles.
Eventually, their conversation moved on. A few minutes later, I said something to Terri in a loud enough voice for my American accent to be clearly heard at the next table.
The talk at their table instantly ceased. Total shutdown. I’m certain I heard wheels turning in four brains simultaneously as memory devices were re-winding, checking, checking, checking, checking. The burning questions in four minds: “What did we say about Americans? What did I personally say? Was it terrible, or was it ok? Were they here when we were talking about America? Have I made a fool of myself?”
After a few moments, they started talking again, and Terri said to me (quietly, of course), “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Guilty as charged 🙂 — but unrepentant. I suspect, and hope, they laughed about it when they left. I also hope they thought about it.
Would those men have talked so casually and with such certainty about America if they had known there were Americans at the next table?
Who is listening when we start exercising our jaw bones and wagging our tongues? Do you know who is at the next table? How would we moderate our speech if someone different were sitting next to us? What would we be saying about someone if the person at the next table is his neighbour or cousin (maybe it is)?
The things said about Pastor X (mentioned above) certainly shouldn’t have been said in public, but neither should they have been said privately. Even if no one else can hear, the Lord hears everything we say. It isn’t going to stay hidden.
I’m thankful for my two “restaurant experiences”, one sad, one humourous. In one, I heard that which shouldn’t have been said anywhere. In the other, the words were harmless. Both cases reminded me of the need to give consideration to the question: “Who might be listening?” Ultimately, both cases reminded me of the importance of considering the One who is always listening.