“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” – Proverbs 16:1
Supposedly, ninety percent of communication is nonverbal. We comprehend nearly all of a person’s meaning through body language and tone. If that is true, it’s safe to say that ninety-five percent of communication is unplanned. You may replay your conversations in the car afterward, but you won’t get very far rehearsing them beforehand. Only the other person can supply the live version.
In situations of gravity and in sensitive conversations, we are wise to catalog some talking points in advance. There will be particular issues you want to address. There will be facts and feelings you need to express. You will weave those into the conversation. But unless you are giving orders to a direct report, those planned points will account for a relatively small proportion of your interaction. And even if you can script an entire meeting, how much of life can happen within such insulated parameters? Real life is not an exchange of premeditated speeches.
Real life, especially your closest relationships, are messy, rapid-fire, and reactionary. You didn’t plan that burst of enthusiasm to unexpected good news, or that angry snap at your spouse when they irritate an old wound. It just happens… Or does it? Why do we say what we say? Why do we have more frequent cause to regret our words than our actions? It’s because words flow out of our hearts with less filters.
This proverb doesn’t mean that God can’t intervene in human action or that he controls our speech like a puppetmaster. It’s meant to accent the difference in thoughtful preparation that can go into plans versus how conversations unfold. Verbal interactions are a much more direct overflow of our hearts.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the round-the-clock demands of parenting. You can’t plan for every contingency. Parenting is maddeningly and delightfully spontaneous. That’s why your parenting approach, like your words, are from the Lord. It’s not to say you have no responsibility in the matter. It’s that your responsibility is your whole person, all of the time, which means you should be more aware how dependent you are on God’s grace.
One of Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet members once praised him for his excellent speeches, and asked how long he took to prepare. He replied it depended on the length of the speech. “If it is ten minutes, I need a week…if it is an hour I am ready now.” The longer we speak, the more our “preparation” is simply who we are at that point in life.
When I set down to make plans, I feel more in control. I can seek counsel. I can sleep on it. I can hide my own motivations and desires from myself and from others. That’s not so easy in my words. If I want my speech to be more effective and helpful, hours of internet research will be a pretty scant resource. I need God to do a work in my heart. If I truly become someone wiser and more loving, then I will sound like someone wiser and more loving. This is why Jesus tells his disciples, when they’re summoned before the big movers and shakers not to worry what they’ll say, because it’ll be given them in that hour. (Mt 10:19-20) What we need to worry about is growing in our love and understanding of Jesus. Words have a way of just falling out.