Karen: Thanks for having me.
Jim: You have written, I love the cover of the book, Keep It Shut and it’s lips with a zipper over them.
Jim: That’s kind of the international, I’m sure, the international sign for don’t say what you shouldn’t say, right?
Karen: I bet, yeah.
Jim: I remember a story. I was going into ninth grade and this really came true this morning, ‘cause Trent was going off to work out for sports and they’ve got a formal kind of training program and he was runnin’ out. I’m reading your book this morning about 6 a.m. and he’s up getting’ ready to go weight lift and I remembered in ninth grade, being in the weight room, getting ready for sports, like he’s doing and a coach walked through the weight room. I was the last guy in there, Coach Logan; I didn’t even forget his name. And he looked over at me and he said, “Man, you’ve got bird legs. It’s a good thing you’re in the weight room” and it crushed me.
Karen: Oh, no.
Jim: I’m a freshman. I’m tryin’ to make the football team and I’m going, “Oh, my gosh; I don’t have the legs for this.” (Laughing)
Jim: I mean, I went home crushed. That’s what you’re talkin’ about, huh?
Karen: Absolutely. You know, the Bible says that, death and life are in the power of the tongue and we can use our words in a way that speaks life to someone and encourages them and is an echo of encouragement as they relive those words throughout their life.
Or we can do the exact opposite and we can speak death and say something to them that wounds them, crushes their spirit, deflates their ego maybe and just can echo for years and years. I had the same thing. I have both good and bad things I can remember, teachers, coaches, other people saying[s] that continue to come back and talk to us even years afterwards.
Jim: In fact, in the book you talked about, I guess, were you a cheerleader?
Jim: And somebody said what to you?
Karen: Well, I was in cheerleading in high school and then I switched to being on the dance team in college and it was actually during the dance team tryouts, I tried out as a freshman. It was a big deal to make it as a freshman. And after tryouts, the advisor had me stay after, took me aside to tell me that I had made the team and I was just ecstatic, but it kinda struck me as odd why she was pulling me aside and telling me this before the list was announced the next day. And she gave me some compliments and said, “Oh, you make up really great routines. You’re creative. You’re really good and you’ve got a great skill level, however, we would like you to lose a little weight.”
Jim: Ooh, that …
Karen:–”because we have an image to keep up.” And—
Karen: —you know, what she said was, “We would like you to lose a little weight,” but what my heart thought it heard was, “We would like you if you’d lose a little weight. And if you don’t, we don’t really like you.” That’s what I heard and it continued to haunt me for years and years and years and I go back and look at pictures now and there were a couple other girls on the squad that we’ve traded clothes. We were the same size. I don’t know why I was pulled aside.
But all of the wonderful things she said about me, leading up to that comment, I didn’t even hear ‘em anymore. I was like, who cares if I’m good enough to make the squad as a freshman, if I’m creative at making up routines. All I heard was, “We would like you if you would lose a little weight.”
Jim: For parents listening, what can they do to avoid or help their kids to be stronger in that moment?
Karen: Yeah, that’s a really good point, because not only are you trying to figure out who you are, but you’re paying very close attention to who other people think you are, what they say, especially people in places of authority and especially with parents. It’s a kind of testy little thing and it can be a good thing and a bad thing, that we often let down with the people in our family. We can be ourselves more, which is a great thing, but then also sometimes our words come out in ways that they would not come out if we were talking to someone else.
If I were talking to my 17-year-old son, I might say something I would never say to one of his friends, because I would temper it a little bit. I would, you know, wrap it up in a little nicer envelope, maybe when I was delivering the words. But with our own kids sometimes, we can say something that is permanently painful, just because maybe we’re temporarily ticked off at them or because we see something in them that we think needs fixing, they need to work on, a character quality or whatever and we as adults, expect them to behave as adults, when they’re teenagers, when they’re gonna be squirrely and they’re gonna make bad decisions sometimes.
But sometime[s] in venting our frustration verbally, we do say things kinda like those coaches said to us, that sometimes echo for years and years and years. So, we need to pause, not say it right then. Think of a different time to say it maybe of a different way to say it, because they are … they’re just listening to every little word and they’re taking it to heart.
I once knew a man who was in his late 50’s and was still trying to prove that he would amount to something. He was trying to start all these different businesses and finally, my husband sat down with him and said, “What is it, that, you know, what are you trying to do? You keep starting all these business and you won’t go work for someone else, ‘cause you want to have your own business and be successful.” And he still remembered his dad telling him at 14, “You’ll never amount to anything.”
Jim and John: Oh.
Karen: “You’ll never amount to anything.”
Karen: And he was out to prove he was gonna amount to something–
Karen: –you know, almost 50 years later.
Jim: And it’s a perfect example of the weight of our words. I was really shocked to read in your book that the Scripture relates to words or mouth or tongue over 3,500 times.
Karen: Yeah, when I first really felt like I was supposed to write this book, because I’ve struggled with this area for so long and have seen some changes for the good because of the Lord, I thought, well, I’m gonna just kinda search the words, like “mouth,” “tongue,” “speech,” “silent,” all these different ways words could be mentioned in Scripture and there were over 3,500 verses—
Jim: That’s …
Karen: –that talked about somebody talking, how we should talk, how we shouldn’t talk, how Jesus talked.
Jim: You know, the other thing that caught my attention and we don’t think about these things, but you said in essence, you vocalized that what we speak doesn’t come out of our bodies. It comes from our soul.
Jim: That was a … a really good thought, that when we form the words we’re about to speak, they’re coming out of our essence, out of our soul–
Jim: –and out of Scripture, where it says, “Out of the overflow of a man’s heart, he speaketh.”
Jim: That really caught me. I mean, I know that, but to say it that way and to hear it that way, that you’re expressing yourself from your soul when your mouth moves and you breathe those words and they can do damage.
Karen: Yeah and I think so often, I know for me in my life or other people listening, you think, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that,” but really before we said it, we thought it. We pondered it. It went down into our heart and we dwelled on it and it kinda took root and it became part of what we really think and what we really felt like we wanted to express and then all of a sudden, out it comes.
But if we had our thinking aligned with the Holy Spirit and our heart in the right place, maybe those words would never have come out. It’s not always just, oops, I shouldn’t have said that. You know, I shouldn’t have thought it. I shouldn’t have dwelt on it. I shouldn’t have believed it.
Jim: And what so stunning is that process can take milliseconds.
John andKaren: Uh-hm.
Jim: What you just described there—
Karen: Oh, yeah.
Jim: –can happen in the blink of an eye.
Karen: Oh, yeah, especially with someone who has no filter between what they think and what they say, which is often what I have done in my life and I have a couple children that are like that. It’s just pssft, comes out.
Jim: Let me … you alluded to this, but let me dig a little deeper. You talked about that parent and child relationship and man, I’ve got two teenagers now.
Jim: And they can push buttons that you’re going, okay, Lord, I didn’t know that was in me, you know—
Jim: –like for the 15th time will you take the trash out?
Jim: And wow, okay, they’ve ignored me again. Get up here. Okay. Now you’re into it and you know, there is a … a juvenile kind of approach to chores sometimes. They don’t get it or they ignore it. It’s not necessarily willful disobedience. But man, you can get exhausted and you can say things that do really hurt.
Karen: Oh, absolutely and in my house, it’s always over the shoes.
Jim: But what happens?
Karen: The shoes that they just … they … I have this nice rug that they could line them up neatly on, but no. They just throw them there, you know. And I remember one afternoon completely losing it, because I was struggling with grocery bags, trying to come up the little steps that led from my garage into my kitchen and I almost tripped and fell because of all the shoes and I also, you know, broke into a rant, hollering at the kids and tellin’ them to get out there. All the neighbors heard me (Laughing), you know. It was awful.
But I just felt like it … this is something I’ve told you over and over and over again and they were not obeying me. And yes, the Bible says, “Children should obey their parents,” however, I couldn’t find the verse that said, when they don’t, it gives parents the right to holler and scream and, you know, give all the neighbors both dinner and a show, you know, because they’re hearing me lose it with my kids.
And so, one thing that’s been really helpful to me and maybe this’ll help some of the listeners is, at those times of heightened frustration, especially when it’s something I’ve asked over and over again and I feel like I’ve asked very kindly and gently, please don’t put your shoes there, when I get to that moment of frustration and a rant’s about ready to break out, I keep telling myself, “Attack the problem, not the person.”
Jim: What is going on there though? I’m laughing, because we have the shoe tray.
Jim: It’s a bronze tray and–
Jim: –I’m honestly … last night Jean said the very same thing (Laughter)—
Jim: –that you said (Laughter). “What do I got to do to get you guys to put your shoes in the tray?? I mean, I–
Jim: –so, I mean, many people are connecting with this, but what’s motivating mom in this case to be upset about that? Is it order or cleanliness or—
Karen: Well, and I—
Jim: –what’s … what’s going on?
Karen: –think it’s … I feel like it’s just being disrespected. I feel like if their teachers told them you must put your backpack on the hook, that’s what—
Jim: They’d do it.
Karen: –my kid would do. They would do, ‘cause there’s a consequence if they don’t. They want their teacher to like ‘em.
Jim: It feels like—
Karen: Mom’s always gonna love me, you know.
Jim: –it feels like disrespect.
Karen: It does.
Jim: Oh, that’s interesting.
Karen: It does and sometimes I will say in some families, I’ve seen that mom and dad are all upset ‘cause people aren’t goin’ with the program. But the problem is, there’s no program in place to go with in the first place, so maybe they haven’t been told they belong here; here’s the shelf. So, we actually tried to attack the problem and not the person then. So, I sat down and apologized to the kids with the whole shoe incident for hollering. I said, “That wasn’t right. What you did wasn’t right. What I did wasn’t right. What can we do here?”
And so, we went out and counted the 17 pair of shoes with three children that were out there and we, yeah, some of them can go on the rug. Some of ‘em were just off season. They were like football cleats and it was (Laughter), you know, spring, you know and we don’t play football in the spring in Michigan. So, we got rid of some of ‘em. We came up with a little incentive. I’m like, “You guys do good goin’ with this program, there may be an ice cream trip waiting at the end of the week, just may or may not be, you know.”
Jim: That’s always good.
Karen: Yeah, and too, and I do think, now I’m gonna sound like I’m talkin’ out of both sides of my mouth, so, but I do think it’s helped me though to realize, this is not a hill I need to die on.
Karen: This is not the end of the world. You know what? I—
Jim: That’s so true.
Karen: –should look at those shoes and go, “Thank God I have children healthy enough to play football and to play baseball and that they can run and get ‘em all dirty. And thank … thank You, Lord for the dirty shoes.”
Karen: “But hey, kids, come help mom put away the shoes,” you know. There’s a balance between wanting kids to go with the program and things to look neat, because things function better is things are in order, but also to realize, be grateful you got kids that have shoes. It’s not that big of a deal.
Jim: It’s a good way to look at it and Karen, I mean, you’ve got tears in your eyes as you’re talking—
Karen: I always do—
Jim: –about this.
Karen: –when I come here. (Laughter)
Jim: No, but I mean, yeah.
Jim: It’s deeply—
Karen: Yeah, it is.
Jim: –rooted in your heart. You know, just recently we were on a camping trip and Jean went to visit her mom and spent time with her family, so it was just the boys and me. And it was funny, ‘cause I went through this whole transition during the trip and the first day and a half, I was on ‘em about everything. Get this over here. Clean up this. How could you leave … look at the camper; it’s filthy. Come on, you guys.
And I finally had to go, wait a minute. Wow! This is not enjoyable, ‘cause I’m just like their taskmaster. And I sat ‘em down and I said, “Guys, I gotta apologize to you, because I am just Type A-ing you to death.” And they laughed. They said, “That’s okay, dad,” like we know who you are, which really I was like, “Uh!” I said, “Okay, listen, you guys take control. I’m not gonna get on you for this stuff. Do it the way you want to do it. You’re old enough to know.”
Jim: “And let’s just have a good time.” And I really … I can tell you, the next four days that we were together, it was so much fun and it wasn’t tension-filled and that’s—
Karen: That’s right.
Jim: –kinda what you’re talking about.
Karen: Exactly and what are those boys gonna remember 10 years from now. We went on this camping trip and the camper was always so neat; it was awesome. (Laughter) Or are they gonna remember the time they spent, just goofin’ off with their dad. And you gotta think what’s most important? So, there’s a happy medium there.
John: Well, some good reminders to have some balance and keep the main thing the main thing, especially when you’re using your words. Our guest today on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly is Karen Ehman and we’re talking about her book, Keep It Shut and the subtitle is What to Say, How to Say It and When to Say Nothing at All and we’ve got details about that book when you call 800-A-FAMILY or at www.focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Karen, let me ask you this. So often I’m, in my life, these practical examples we’re talking about, I’m looking for Scripture to help me. I think that’s what we should all do as Christians is, “Lord, how am I lining up and point out those things I need to work on.”
And with the power of the tongue that you’re talkin’ about in your book, I mean, that a field that is full of harvest, you know, how to correct your tongue and say things in a way that is God-honoring. Where do you turn to in Scripture? I know Joseph is one of the stores you talk about. When I think of Joseph, there’s so much there, but I don’t know that I’ve ever related the power of his tongue in what he spoke as a lesson for me, but talk about that.
Karen: Yeah, absolutely. You know, sometimes Joseph can be one of those characters that we almost think he was perfect, because there’s not anything really written that supposedly he did wrong. Now some biblical scholars think he had a problem with pride, so he wasn’t perfect, but he did seem to have this knack for what to say and how to say it and when to say nothing at all.
Jim: Well, when he was younger, it seemed like he was so brutally honest. “Hey, I saw this dream.”
Jim: “And you’re all gonna bow down to me.”
Jim: It wasn’t … it was … he was just saying what he had seen. It would sound prideful though—
Jim: –that hey, all my older brothers are gonna bow down to me.
Jim: They didn’t like that too much.
Karen: No and it … Scripture never says, God told him to tell them. (Laughter) He kinda just said, “Hey, I got some news here,” you know. I’m sure he would taken right to his Facebook page and posted that if it were today. But yeah, and in the beginning it does seem like he just kinda said whatever was on his mind, let people know whatever had just happened to him.
But later when he got into all sorts of trouble that he never asked for in his life, when he was sold into slavery by his brothers and you know, wound up in Potiphar’s house with Mrs. Potiphar there. I like to think of her as the first “desperate housewife,” right. I’ve never (Laughter) watched that show, but don’t they like try to seduce the pool guy or something, you know.
Karen: But he …
Jim: And that’s in essence what was happening.
Karen: Yeah and so, she was … you know, had her sights set on him. She thought he was quite handsome and she was pleading with him to “Come to bed with me” and he could’ve easily, you know, done that. But his words and his actions both honored God and I think his actions honored God because his words first did. He said, you know, “I can’t do this. I’m not in the place of God. My … my master trusts me and I can’t sin against him or against God, so the answer’s no.” He honored God with his words in a tough place.
Jim: Yeah and it’s so strong. You know, so often in a parenting concept again, I’m trying to teach my boys to think through what they’re gonna do if somebody says, “Do you want to do this?” and it’s not the thing to do, whether that’s—
Jim: –you know, have a drink in high school or you know, whatever it might be. I’m saying, “Think ahead what you’re gonna say.” You have to help people and yourself, you have to form your opinion sometimes ahead of time, so you know you can find the courage to say no, even when it’s hard.
Karen: Absolutely and that’s exactly what he did. He already knew. He knew God’s place. He knew his place and he was not gonna sin against God, nor do anything against his … his boss in essence, Mr. Potiphar. He did not want to, you know, he said, “He trusts me with everything. I’m not going to do this. I’m not gonna do it,” even though the result was he got thrown in jail.
Jim: And we call that “character.”
Jim: It’s interesting that even being thrown in jail, he doesn’t really respond. Talk about that aspect of, it’s like … and what I mean by not responding, he didn’t demand justice, listen.
Jim: He just kinda sat quietly and trusted that God was—
Jim: –in control. There’s a lesson there for us as Christians today, isn’t there?
Karen: Absolutely, ‘cause the first thing we want to do is defend ourself and take to anybody that’ll listen to us or take to the airwaves, the social media or whatever. Especially I see this happen a lot with younger people, trying to defend themself, but he didn’t. He knew he had done the right thing and he was gonna live with the results of doin’ the right thing. And so, even in jail, he used his words for good and he used his position there in a way that honored God when, you know, people were trying to talk to him about dreams and heard that he, “Hey, there’s this dude. He interprets dreams” and he continued when he opened his mouth, what came out pleased God no matter where he was, no matter if he was in the top of his game or he was sittin’ in the pits of prison.
Jim: It seems to me, too, that the thing that I get out of Joseph’s story is his ability to trust God no matter what the circumstance.
Jim: And he trusts it, even in negative things that God was unfolding something for him to be aware of, like the famine.
Jim: You know, the fact that he was gonna be put into a position. He wouldn’t have known those things ahead of time per se. He needed to trust that God, even though he was sittin’ in a jail cell, “Okay, Lord, You might have something here for me. Just help me observe what it is,” right?
Karen: Absolutely. It’s like he just really knew his role and his job and his role and his job was to just obey God, do the right thing and trust Him and leave the results up to God.
Jim: Yeah. Another character in the Scripture you talk about is James. I love James. He seems like one of the guys I would like to just have had dinner with, you know, sit at a table with James and hear his heart, ‘cause he sounds so loving and kind. What do you … what do you get from James and his expression?
Karen: There’s so many practical things in the book of James about how we are to use our words, you know and the whole devastation that can happen from a tiny little spark, you know, whether it’s gossip or it’s anger. So often it starts with just one little comment, you know, and then it snowballs, whether it’s gossip and now it’s being spread around or it’s anger in the family and now, we’re in an all-out brawl that, you know, would make the Hatfields and McCoy’s look mild, you know. (Laughter)
But especially, you know, if I can just kinda talk to the mom in the family, ‘cause that’s what I am. I know with me, sometimes when there are conflicts breaking out between two of my children or maybe with my husband and one of the children, I don’t always know my place and know to be prayerful and careful what I say. It’s like I get right in there and that little spark of that little conversation that’s now escalating between them, it grows because I now become the gasoline queen and I’m dousing accelerant on an already heated argument, rather than trying to diffuse what’s happening. So, I think we have to be really careful.
I love that James uses fire as an analogy of the tongue, because it is so true. What starts as something small, can really escalate if we don’t use our words properly or know when to just stop and not say anything and pick it back up at a later time, once tempers have cooled maybe a little bit.
Jim: Yeah and in fact, in James, he does give us, I know sometimes we look down on a formula, but he does—
Jim: –say it right there in James 1:19 and 20. He says, “Know this, my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of a man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Jim: That is powerful. Why do we ignore that, as the church?
Karen: I … you know what? I think it’s because our natural tendency is not to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. I’m, you know, slow to listen. I’m pretty quick to speak and I’m faster than you saying “Bolt” to get angry. And if you don’t know who he is, you have to Google him. He’s the faster man on the earth, you know.
But I … we just … in our flesh, in our normal tendency, it’s exactly the opposite of what he tells us to do. But because he has given us this little, if you want to say formula, this little rule of thumb, I believe that with God’s help, we can do it. We just need to remember to pause before we pounce and to really just pray, “Okay, Lord, I want to let loose right now. I want to say somethin’, but help me to be slow to get angry.” because God’s slow to get angry with us.
Jim: Well, that’s true.
Karen: He’s compassionate and gracious with us. We need to be that with other people.
Jim: And Karen, what’s so beautiful about this, it works at every level of relationship, doesn’t it, with your spouse, with your children, with your friends, with your family members and with the community at large. If you apply these biblical principles, the irony is, good things will happen typically and people will trust you and they’ll speak with you and they’ll come for advice. Is that what you find?
Karen: Absolutely and I think it’s in such stark contrast to how the world normally rolls when it comes to our language. We just let it all hang out, say what’s on our minds and don’t temper it at all. We just roll over people like a steamroller and say inappropriate things even sometimes, rather than really carefully weighing our words before we let them come out of our mouth.
John: Karen, it seems like it’s very easy and you’ve written a book, so obviously, you’ve succeeded at this and you don’t ever have any problems again (Laughter) with your tongue. I appreciated—
Karen: Eeh! Push the–
John: –what you said.
Karen: –wrong button? I need to hit the wrong button.
John: I appreciated what you said a moment ago about sitting down with your children and apologizing, because—
John: –I hear you. I mean, we read our Bible. We pray and then boom! I just spew out these words and my kids are lookin’ at me like, “Did you really yell at us like that? Or did you really say that cutting remark?” It really is important though to model asking forgiveness when we have misused our words with our kids, isn’t it?
Karen: Absolutely yes and I think, too, you know, when the Bible says no one can tame the tongue, that is true. We’re never gonna be perfect in what we say. We can temper our tongue and that’s what I feel like I have done. I mean, my mouth has gotten me in trouble for decades and it’s probably only been in the last five years that I’ve realized that most of the fractured friendships and wounded relationships in my family that I could tether back all of them to something that I’d said.
And so, I really started to try to work on it. I’m not perfect at it at all, but people have noticed a difference. I … before my natural tendency was to misuse my words almost all the time and occasionally, I’d slip up and use them correctly. And now that’s kind of flip-flopped, but I certainly have not arrived, because the Bible says, we’re not gonna arrive. No one can tame the tongue. We can temper it. We can make progress, but we’re never gonna be perfect.
Jim: Karen, with that, it sounds hard. I mean, it’s like lifting weights again. It’s a workout. When you think of doing that emotionally, it’s far easier just to say what I’m thinkin’ and you know, that’s honest. I think God’s honored by that. You’re saying maybe not.
Karen: Maybe not.
Jim: You’ve gotta be careful with how you use your tongue. So, the point I’m trying to make, is it exhausting to make that transition to where some of your words were well-spoken and many were ill-spoken, to reverse that? Was that hard to do?
Karen: Let me ask you a question. When you had bird legs, was it exhausting to lift weights at first? (Laughter)
Karen: The more you did it, did it get easier?
Karen: I think it’s like a muscle.
Karen: It’s like a muscle that we use. It’s hard and exhausting and oh, my goodness, how many times did I have to go back not only and apologize to my kids, I’ve had to call my hairdresser when I got home from getting my hair done and saying, “I was gossiping about that person. I shouldn’t have said that. Will you forgive me?” I’ve had to do all kinds of going back and asking for forgiveness, but guess what? When I did that, it made me realize, you know, kind of how embarrassing that is to have to do and it made me not want to get in that situation again.
And I’ve actually come to one other little rule of thumb in my life that perhaps will help someone else, is that, when something happens in your community or your church that’s a big hot topic of gossip and you know stories are flying and people are talking, I’ve actually made a policy to contact the person that is being talked about and let them know. I just want to let you know, I am not gonna be talking about this to anybody other than you and God. I want you to know that I’m making that commitment.
And when someone would bring up the situation, something happened in our town that was in the newspaper, someone’s relative was gonna go to jail for a long time and I knew she felt horrible about it and the whole town was abuzz. I texted her and told her that and she could not believe what an encouragement that was to her.
And when people would bring up the situation I would just say, “Hey, sorry. If you guys are gonna kinda talk about that, I’m gonna have to leave, ‘cause I told so-and-so I wouldn’t be talking about that to anybody other than God and her.”
Jim: Yeah, that’s awesome, ‘cause—
Jim: –you’re modeling the behavior we should model.
Karen: –and then other people do it.
Karen: That … that’s what—
Jim: You were leading.
Karen: –we should be doing. We should be praying for those people, rather than going, “Uh, did you hear what I heard? This is -” “I know I heard it went down this way.” What does that accomplish? It accomplishes nothing. It just makes us, as Christians, look like a bunch of backsliding gossipers, you know, rather than really trying to take it to prayer.