Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Matthew 17:9
Have you ever met someone who, in that first conversation, told you every significant thing she has ever done in her life? A few years ago, I was flying to Salt Lake City and I sat next to a Danish man. He was an older man, overweight, jolly – could have passed for Santa. The flight was about an hour and a half long, and in that time, I learned a lot about him. He was a representative for a large hearing aid manufacturer. He went all over the world to sell hearing aids. He even fit Fidel Castro with a hearing aid! But keep that on the down-low because apparently Fidel thinks it would hurt his image if people knew he needs a hearing aid. This was one of the many tales of the exotic and brushes with rich and famous hard-of-hearing people this man shared with me. He also told me about his family. He was quite enamored of his grandkids and he told me of how he had recently discovered his talent for telling bedtime stories, and was now working on a children’s book.
I didn’t mind listening to all this. At the time, it was better than reading the in-flight magazine. But was this really a conversation? I wonder now at how needy a person must be to bend a total stranger’s ear for 90 minutes with straight self-promotion. What is it about some people that they just have to spout about every tiny thing of significance that has ever happened to them to the complete neglect of true conversation?
It may seem innocent enough, but it is not God’s way. Jesus said we’ll be held accountable for every idle word on judgment day (Matt. 12:36). Eek! Now there’s a gag order! Sometimes even when we have something really newsworthy to share, like the disciples did after witnessing the transfiguration of Christ, our instructions from God remain, “Don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen…”
One strategy for self-restraint in conversation is to wait to be asked. This really works – ask me how I know! (OK, I’m assuming your silence is an invitation here.) I recently came back from nine months in South America, followed soon after by two more weeks in Peru. You would think (that is, I would think) that after having been gone that long, people might be the slightest bit interested in hearing about my trip. I’m not a travel rookie, so it really did not take me by surprise when no one asked to see my pictures or the most anyone wanted was a brief answer to “How was your trip?” I was, nonetheless, a little bemused when on the first meeting with my family after returning, there was not one inquiry about my trip. I had my computer with me, in case anyone wanted to see picture of things like Iguacu Falls, the Amazon rainforest, Brazilian Carnaval and the like, but there was no invitation at all. Following my strategy of waiting to be asked, the evening ended with no mention of me ever having been gone.
I didn’t think anything unusual of my airplane conversation with Santa, and there is really nothing unusual about the disinterest of my family either. It’s human nature – sin nature – to be self-absorbed in word and deed. But it is not God’s way. God says, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions” (Prov. 18:2), and “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent” (Prov. 17:28).
Pay attention to your words over the next few days and see if you find yourself tooting your own horn. It comes so naturally to us that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Honestly, it’s difficult not to self-praise. Keeping the lid on a great “me” story is about as close as humans come to knowing what it feels like to be soda pop in a can that’s just been shaken. It takes a good deal of self-restraint to keep from exploding in self-report and praise. In The People’s Bible, Joseph Parker said:
“Learn the lesson of self-suppression, learn the mystery of silence; the wild-talking man never comes to any rich maturity of life. We must always know more than we have ever told; Every author must be greater than his books, every singer greater than his song, every preacher more than his sermon. Do not babble; think. Keep all these things and ponder them in your heart – the uses of all will be seen presently. Does Christ ever tune the instrument for the purpose of hanging it on the wall?”
People don’t need to know everything about you. Keeping some stuff back for friends and acquaintances to find out as the years go by makes you like an onion – as Shrek says – with layers. It makes for the truly fascinating person that a self-praiser is trying to convince others she is.
Hold this thought: People don’t need to know everything about me – especially not after one conversation!