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If I were God, I would create humans with rewind buttons on their mouths, or a 10-second delay device.
We tend to say some really dumb things.
Once I met a man at a gym who said he'd been a bodybuilder for 48 years. Since he wasn't all Hulk Hoganish I asked, "When did you stop?"
Although he laughed, he looked at me with a combined horrified amazement as if to say, "I can't believe you said that!"
Halfway home it hit me that what I had said to him was equivalent to him asking me, "So, when did you let yourself go?"
Another time my pastor asked if I'd stay after the church service in case people wanted someone to pray with. Someone did, a mother of a teenage daughter. She was heartbroken over some choices her daughter had made.
This time it wasn't so much what I said that made me want to slap myself, but that I said anything at all. I kept talking and talking, babbling on and on, blah, blah and infinitely more blah, etcetera and so forth, ad infinitum and ad nauseum.
As my brain screamed, "Stop talking! Shut up! Just. Be. Quiet!" my mouth kept moving.
Earlier this week someone e-mailed, asking if I could recommend any books or resources for parents who have lost children. Her son had died in a car wreck and she was having a difficult time.
I suggested checking out her local Hospice organization or a church. She replied that church folks had let her down, that after the funeral they hadn't called or visited. She said perhaps they didn't know what to say.
Then came the kicker: "I hadn't realized just how non-comforting the words 'Count your blessings' could be until now," she wrote.
She said she could write a book about what not to say at a funeral, including: "Be grateful you still have one child left" and "Be grateful he wasn't paralyzed; he wouldn't have wanted to live like that."
She said she felt like she was in a Saturday Night Live skit with one person's comment more outrageous than the next.
I once heard about a man who visited his friend in the hospital who had just had surgery. One by one he named people he had known who had been admitted to that very hospital - and who died.
"Most folks are very nice, bless their hearts," the e-mailer wrote. "They just don't know what to say. I even felt bad for some of them, because I know they went home and slapped their foreheads and said, 'I can't believe I said that!'"
She said she'd been reading the book of Job lately. After the Old Testament saint had lost everything he had except his nagging wife, his friends came to comfort him but did everything but that.
"They weren't very comforting," she wrote. "But you know, they came and sat with him for days, not saying a word, which made them pretty good friends. They got in trouble when they started talking."
Ouch. That's usually when I get in trouble, too.
There is a time for words, but maybe not as often as most of us think. I, for one, deeply regret so many stupid, unhelpful and even harmful words I've spoken. That's why I'd like a rewind button on my mouth.
But since there isn't such a device, I can only learn from my blathering blunders and those of others and hope that next time I want to speak, especially to offer comfort, I'll think first. Even that's no guarantee, because often I think that I am being helpful when I'm really not.
King Solomon warned, "Watch your words and hold your tongue; you'll save yourself a lot of grief" (Proverbs 21:23, The Message). He also wrote, "Even dunces who keep quiet are thought to be wise; as long as they keep their mouths shut, they're smart" (Proverbs 17:28).
What more needs to be said?