Karen: Thanks for havin’ me.
John: Karen is a writer and a speaker, so well qualified to address this topic and also very candid in her own shortcomings when it comes to the power of words. She’s written a book called Keep It Shut and the subtitle is, What to Say, How to Say It and When to Say Nothing at All. And you can find details about the book and a CD or a download of this program and our mobile app so you can listen on the go to this program again, at www.focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And John, there’s some good stuff in the discussion last time and I hope people will get ahold of it, because I think it’ll be helpful. Karen, you talked out of the book of James last time and that stuck with me overnight. Just that idea to be slow to speak, quick to listen and slow to anger, so important. Why do we trip on that? Even as believers, why do we trip on that so much? It’s so obvious that that’s the right thing to do.
Karen: I think sometimes it just feels good to kinda (Laughter) … well, my husband and I call it throwin’ flesh balls when I’m not walkin’ in the–
Jim: Flesh balls (Laughing)
Karen: –Spirit, I’m kinda walkin’ in the flesh and it feels good sometimes to just scoop down and get a big old handful of flesh and sling it at somebody. It feels good for the moment, but then later, we have wounded relationships. We have regret. We wish we could do it over again, but it seems like we just don’t learn.
Karen: In the heat of the moment, it feels good to just kinda unload, but later we have regrets.
Jim: Okay, tonight I’m using that with Jean. Hey, Jean, I’m gonna make this little flesh ball and throw it your way.” (Laughter) She’ll say, “What? What are you talkin’ about?”
Jim: We left off last time talking about the need to discuss social media and we wanted to pick up today talkin’ about that. Social media, it’s almost like we feel an anonymity in that environment, that people can’t see us, so we can say what we want to say. I am shocked at what people express on Facebook and Instagram and what they say about themselves, about their family members. It’s like people don’t realize that people that read it are gonna connect the dots. How come we are so lacking in connecting what’s happening there?
Karen: It’s a really strange phenomenon. I’m still not sure I’m really used to it, even though I have most of the avenues of social media. It’s just so foreign to me, but it is a sense of anonymity, even though our little avatar, the little pictures are right there. They know it’s us saying it. Somehow we feel empowered, sitting behind that screen and we do say things that we would never probably say in person.
In fact, when I was writing the book, I did a survey of over 500 of my blog readers and I asked them the question, “Have you ever seen or have you ever said anything on social media, on Facebook in a comment thread that you probably wouldn’t have said in person to the person?” And 52 percent of them said yes and then I asked them if they’d done it more than once and there was this big chunk of that 52 percent that said, “Yeah, I’ve done it more than once.” Some of them said, “I’ve done it like a dozen times.”
And 100 percent of them said that they had seen someone else say something they were pretty sure they would never say in person. I know there are people I’m friends with in social media that I know in real life, maybe I go to church with them or I’ve worked with them before and they’re pretty mild-mannered and calm and laid back and don’t ruffle the feathers, but boy, on Facebook, they will let their opinions fly.
Jim: It’s so interesting. I’ve got an example of that where somebody who was upset with me because I wanted to meet with people in the abortion industry and people in the gay activist movement just to talk with them—
Jim: –as a Christian, and this person was really upset about that and sent me an e-mail that was just profanity laced. It was amazing and then—
Jim: –ended it saying, “In Christ.”
Jim: And I was thinkin’, that totally lacks integration and it puzzled me actually. I wasn’t so much frustrated with is, although to be honest, I was a bit, ‘cause he didn’t sit in those meetings. He—
Jim: –didn’t know what went on in those meetings and it was very positive actually. But to have somebody who claims to be a Christian express themselves that way and then to use the Lord’s name at the end—
Jim: –seemed incongruent, but that’s what you’re talkin’ about.
Karen: Uh-hm, absolutely. It’s just that, I don’t know. I call it the national pastime of opinion slinging. You know, it’s not Major League Baseball anymore. (Laughing) Those people don’t flip on the TV to watch baseball; they fire up their computer to watch everybody opinion sling. And they themselves like to sling their opinions.
I don’t know. It’s … I don’t know if it’s [that] they feel empowered because there’s an audience there, whether it’s on their own page or what I see a lot is, people go to someone else’s page that maybe is a well-known Christian or famous or whatever and they put their opinions up there, because then there’s exponentially more people on that Facebook page or that blog or whatever, Instagram feed, that see that. They feel like they’re on stage somehow and they’ve got this audience and they’ve got everybody’s undivided attention. They’re just gonna let it fly.
Karen: And it’s, you know, it’s really sad to me, because I really honestly believe that all the Scripture that talks about how we are to use our words, it applies to whether we’re speaking them with our mouths or we’re tapping away on the keyboard. Those are still our words and they still matter.
Jim: Karen, let’s move to a more vulnerable area and that’s with teenagers. Of course, I’ve got two teenage boys and in the news media from time to time, we’re hearing about bullying and other things that are going on in social media.
The stories that really grip me are the ones with teenage girls that are being bullied because of their weight or because of their looks or you know, for whatever reason. And it really, I just feel the burden for them, because again, as we talked about last time, teenagers are so vulnerable to peer opinion and peer pressure. They’re looking to set up relationships. It’s I think, a God-given thing that they’re seeking relationship and significance and friendship and then they can be destroyed in a very vulnerable moment. Talk about that—
Jim: –and how as parents, we need to be mindful and engaged with our teens particularly and what they’re expressing to their friends.
Karen: Yeah, I know. I think back to the times I was in middle school and high school. The worst thing we had to worry about was someone passing a note around about us. You know, maybe it got around to 10 or 20 people.
But now, my goodness, the social media, it’s around not just the block, but it’s around the world and it is such a sad thing when you see this bullying happening or even just the feelings of rejection a lot of especially middle-school girls maybe or high school girls feel when there’s an event happening, a party, a hangout, slumber party whatever and they’re not invited to it.
Karen: We might have felt sad about that, you know, when I was growing up. That night you might’ve thought, “Bummer, I didn’t get invited.” And maybe on Monday you heard people talkin’ about it in class or the lunch period or whatever, but now they can see it happening in real time. They’re still able to see their friends that are havin’ the party without them on Facebook or Instagram or whatever and it can feel a lot like this overall and continual rejection to these girls, whether that crosses the line and now there’s bullying happening, it’s just constant and chronic.
And yes, parents, you know my daughter is twenty-four she didn’t go through this as much. Facebook was just kinda comin’ out when she was in high school and older things like Xanga and MySpace were around, but there wasn’t you know, some of this media, Twitter, you know where – twitter wars, you hear about people getting into Twitter wars and Twitter fights. So I think parents need to be on top of what their kids are saying and are being the recipients of on social media by just having that conversation with them and follow your … your kids. I mean, that was one of the rules at our house. [If] you’re gonna have social media, mom and dad get to be your friends. Now I don’t stalk my children’s friends, but a lot of their friends have asked me to be their friend. So if they ask me, then I say yes.
Jim: Well you must be a cool mom.
Karen: Yeah I’m kinda, well you know I feed ‘em a lot of food. I go through a lot of food with teenage boys in my house.
Jim: That’s good
Karen: But I think to be living in that world and not just detached from it is the number one thing-
Jim: Gotta be engaged.
Karen: – you gotta be engaged, absolutely, and you’ve gotta have that conversation with them that yes, just because in the heat of the moment you wanna say somethin’, you gotta realize that’s gonna live on, even if you change your mind and you go in and delete it, someone could have taken a screenshot of it.
Jim: Hey, let me most to another area that we as Christians tend to abuse, I think would be a fair word and it’s in this area of prayer requests and gossip and (Laughter) you know, let’s pray for Barbara, because you know, Barbara’s having an affair and she (Laughter) and then you start rolling this out. It can be a subtle way of getting a point across. Where’s that line and how do we do that with a godly heart?
Karen: Absolutely, it’s very easy to cloak gossip in a thin glaze of Jesus and this is a prayer request. And just I’m concerned about her. And I know, I know I’ve done it in my life, and I’ve seen it done before, often. And so, I think for me, I have to really dial back and ask myself, am I really wanting people to pray? Or am I really wanting to leak some details I think people don’t know?
Jim: So, what’s your core motivation?
Karen: Yeah and if my motivation is just to say, you know, we really need to pray for Barbara, because her husband’s had an affair or whatever, am I really saying that, ‘cause I know everyone in the room already knows about it and we do need to … well, let’s not talk about it. Let’s actually stop right now and pray? Or am I wondering if everybody knows about it, so I kinda want to just leak some of the details, you know. It all comes down to the motive of your heart.
I really don’t think there’s a slick three-step process really that we can ask ourselves, because we know in our heart of hearts, why am I saying this? You know why you’re saying something. And so, we need to stop and ask ourselves that before we go lookin’ all spiritual, givin’ our prayer request.
Jim: You also talk in your book about flattery and this one can be confusing, because Proverbs will mention, you know, when you’re with a king, you may want to give him a gift.
Karen: Well, you know, I like to think about gossip and flattery in this way. Gossip is saying something behind someone’s back you would never say to their face. But flattery is saying something to someone’s face you would probably never say behind their back, because you don’t believe it’s true.
Jim: Oh, that’s okay.
Karen: And I think, for me, I have fallen into the trap of flattery. I’m quite a people pleaser. I want people to like me. I don’t like to disappoint people. I don’t like conflict, so if someone asks me, you know, do these jeans make me look fat? (Laughing) I don’t want to say yes.
Jim: You ask the right people.
Karen: Yeah, yeah. (Laughter) So, I think for me, I need to learn that, that hard, hard thing we’re called to do, which is speak the truth in love. Because what we do is, we tend to do either one of two extremes. Either we’re the kind of person who barks out the truth in an unloving manner, or we think the only loving thing to do is to dance around the truth and not say it. And that’s where I tend to land a little more. I’m like, oh, I don’t really want to tell ‘em the truth here.
And so, I will say things that are totally not true, that I probably wouldn’t say behind their back, but I’m saying it to their face, you know, that opposite of gossip. So, I think to learn to pick out something that is positive and something that you can praise them honestly about, but not to cross the line into lying and I often just pray nobody will ask me (Laughing) any of those questions, but when they do to say something that’s encouraging and something that’s true, but don’t cross the line and go on and on and on and now it’s just a big fable you’re spinning just to get them to like you.
Jim: Karen, you also talk in your book about the “disease to please” and I think we’re creating a culture and I fall prey to this, where you were just mentioning that desire to be pleasing to others. It’s natural, but what is the “disease to please?” And what do we have to avoid in wanting to be liked?
Karen: Yeah, I think the disease to please is when we give answers based on what we think the other person wants to hear, rather than on what we think God wants us to do or what works in our schedule. I know I get into this a lot when it comes to taking on too many commitments, because I tend to be a person that I like to stay busy.
I’m a pretty high capacity person and when I’m asked to take on another responsibility, I don’t always like really evaluate what’s already on my plate and maybe remove something before I put the new thing on. I … I’m just so sure that if I rearrange everything, I can make it fit. So, because I’m pleasing people and saying yes all the time, now all of a sudden, I’m not pleased because I’m overloaded and I’m … and I’m stressed.
So, I think especially when it comes to taking on responsibilities, doing things whether it’s at the church or at school or whatever other organization, I think we need to really ask ourselves, am I called, not just am I capable? Because if I’m capable of it and I want the person to like me, that’s a recipe for disaster. I just want everybody else to be happy and so, of course, I just, “Yes” rolls off my tongue, rather than really stopping and praying about, am I called to do this?
Jim: Okay, so we … we’re gonna push you for that example. So, there … you coached cheerleading, I think.
Karen: I used to, yeah.
Jim: Yeah, okay, so you had a friend’s daughter on that squad or attempting to get on the squad—
Jim: –and that put you in an awkward spot. What happened?
Karen: Oh. (Laughter) You have to bring that one up? (Laughter)
Jim: I had to bring that one up, ‘cause it’s real life.
Karen: Yeah, yeah. I … for years I coached cheerleading and I coached a dance squad. In fact, I just got through judging a competition last week. I still am involved a little bit—
Karen: –something I like to do, but there was one particular time when not only was I the cheerleading coach up at the high school, but my husband was a youth pastor. And so, we had a lot of teens in our life and there was a particular girl who wanted to try out for the cheerleading squad and her mom was talking to me about it at church and was all excited and I tried to be encouraging. Of course, I’d like lots of girls to come out. We had a great squad and a lot of fun.
But I was very … I want to say regretful when I saw the girl at the very first practice, because she was horrible. I wished, you know, that I would have known it was not her strong suit. I probably wouldn’t have been so encouraging telling her mom, “Oh yeah, she should try out.” So then during the like two-week process, her mom came to me a couple of times and wanted to know how she was doing and did I think she’d make the squad. And—
Karen: –I should have in retrospect been just very honest and told her strengths, you know, kind of sandwich the hard news between some good news about her, too. You know—
Karen: –she’s a hard worker. She’s, you know, shows up on time. She stays late. She’s pleasant. She gets along with the girls. There’s all these great qualities, but for the actual sport, eh, not so much. Maybe there’s something else that she could channel that determination and her great attitude into that she’s more naturally physically gifted toward.
Jim: That’s a nice way to put that.
Karen: Yeah, I should’ve said that. (Laughter) But…
Jim: What did you say?
John: If only …
Karen: I would … you know, I was just like, “Oh, she’s such a hard worker. She’s doing great.” And when she flat out like asked me, “Do you think she’ll make the squad,” I panicked. Now luckily I said, “Well, you know, I am the coach. I shouldn’t be talking about this. What if it got around to other people, plus I don’t pick the squad. I had a panel of judges from other school districts come in and pick the squad, so I didn’t have anything to say, you know, anything to do with it. It all depended on how she did on tryout day.
I … so I said that to kind of get out of saying, “I don’t think she’ll make it.” But I said, “You know, just have her keep workin’ hard. I’m sure everything’ll be fine.” Well, she tried out. She was horrible. She couldn’t keep up with the, the group that she tried out with, and then with individual, she was trying so hard she looked like she was trying to pass a kidney stone rather than try to do cheers. Girls were laughing on the side lines, luckily she couldn’t see them. She did not make the squad and afterward I saw her out in the parking lot with her backpack, just you know, her shoulders were heaving and she was bawling and I thought, oh. Now maybe God used all of that as a good life lesson, but in retrospect, I wish I had been honest with that mom and said, “There are a lot of things she’s great at. Cheerleading’s just not one of ‘em.” And I couldn’t bring myself to say that, ‘cause I wanted to please her.
Jim: But let’s talk about that, because you know, there are parts of Scripture that talk about you know, those areas of our life that we’re struggling in and it actually produces character and hope in us, where we are suffering and how that leads to deeper character. There’s a role that, that plays—
Jim: –in our lives that the Lord uses in His mysterious way to deepen our lives. It’s I think that Scripture in Psalms where He’s close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. There’s something when a human being goes through devastating things, God can use those pieces to turn people toward Him, to deepen their relationship with Him. So, we don’t want to say that we’re trying to make life easy and painless, right?
Karen: Right, exactly and I’m sure that God did use that in her life. In fact, I was that girl. I did not make cheerleading in the ninth grade and I was devastated, but it was at that same time, because I had time on my schedule, that someone at the middle school asked if I’d like to help coach cheerleading for the sixth graders and that’s how I got into the coaching. I went back and lead the squad the whole rest of my high school career, but it was that “no” that God said that led me to a different “yes.” And so, you know, yes, He can absolutely use things like that for our good and to teach us a hard lesson and to point us in the right direction.
John: Karen, as you’re speaking, I’m thinking about opportunities we have as parents to speak truthfully to our children. I mean, it’s a lie to say you can do anything you want if you just put your head to it and your heart to it and you work at it. There have been instances where we’ve encouraged a child to do something and it didn’t turn out so well. There’s a balance there or at least it seems there should be. I mean, our kids dream. We want to shepherd that, but do we need to step in and tell them, “Uh, maybe it’s not workin’ out so well?” Or do we need to let them bump up as Jim said and have that life lesson of somebody else gets to tell you, you aren’t very good at that?
Karen: Uh-hm, I think you kinda need to do both. I know for us, with our kids, we let them choose two things a year to be involved in, so they weren’t trying out for every single thing, because they’re not gonna be good at every single thing.
So, we tried to help them to learn early on what they were gifted at, what sport or activity and channel their energies into that. But then there are also times that we’ve given them the old lecture that not everything is learned by being the starter. Some things are learned better lessons by being on the bench and just being a part of the team.
And I remember our daughter, she was very gifted in volleyball and drama, but one year she wanted to try out for soccer, because all of her friends were trying out for soccer. We said, “Well, you can only do two things. If you’re gonna do soccer, somethin’ else is gonna have to go. And she said, “Well, I think I want to try it, so I think I’ll do soccer and then maybe I won’t do something else.”
She only made it through three practices and she came home and she said, “I don’t like soccer. There’s too much running.” (Laughter) And because we had told her, you know, you have to make a choice, she all of a sudden started to think, “Ooh, this is fun to be around my friends, but I really like drama better.” So, she dropped out of that. She continued to go to the games and cheer her friends on, but she was not just having—
John: Did you—
Karen: –unlimited opportunities.
John: –see that she couldn’t probably do soccer very well?
Karen: Yeah and we said to her, “So, what do you … why do you want to be in soccer? Do you think you’ll be good at it?” We didn’t say, “We don’t think you will be.” We let her kind of process it and she’s a pretty confident girl, so she thinks she can pretty much, you know, try anything, especially back then.
But she learned a good lesson just from going through that just half a week of tryouts and realizing, I don’t have to be good at everything. I can still hang out with my friends. I’ll just go sit and watch ‘em in the stands. So, it was a good lesson for her to learn. You’re not always good at everything and you don’t have to always be good at everything, ‘cause it’s not all of our kids have always started in every single sport and sometimes they learn more from being on the bench.
Jim: Karen, I want to ask you a little bit more about filters, because I think, you know, it’s interesting. When you look at your nuclear family, you’re a bit more straightforward and you’re yourself at home and your kids see you. Your spouse sees you and that’s who you are. And so, that filter is pretty thin.
And then you get to the extended family and I’m thinking of the family reunions and you had a funny story in your book which reminds me of funny things that have happened to us, when you get a family reunion together. These are people you know, but it’s almost like they’re so comfortable. You may see each other once or twice a year. You’re on the phone a few times a year with each other, but then you do the family reunion. And usually the first comment is, “Oh, you’ve put on a little weight.” (Laughter) It’s like extended family seems almost too familiar and they say things they maybe shouldn’t say, huh?
Karen: They do and sometimes they’re saying it in retaliation for what you said to them at the last (Laughing) family reunion. Maybe they felt like, you know, there was a little unresolved conflict list and I’m gonna bring it back up or I’m gonna give the jab, ‘cause you gave a jab to me, a very interesting dynamic.
Jim: Does that happen to you?
Karen: It has; it has.
Jim: What was it?
Karen: Well, this was actually a get-together for my daughter’s birthday party and I have been up and down the scale all over the place and … in my adult life and this was a time when I was way up on the scale. And my mother had recently had diabetes diagnosed in her life and had dropped a bunch of weight and there was a relative—extended family relative there—that started going on and on about how great my mother looked and saying, “Oh, you just look like a teenager. You’ve dropped so much weight.” And then that person looked at me and said, “Hey, I have an idea. Who else votes that Karen gets diabetes?”
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Karen: –in front of this whole … and I just felt like this high. It was terrible and no one said anything. The silence was pretty deafening and I think that kinda embarrassed this person, so they kind of backed off a little bit. But I’ve had to really deal with this situation and it’s re … it’s reoccurred sometimes and realize that as much as that looks horrible and cruel, this person really does think whenever I’m at a place that I need to lose weight, by making a back-handed comment like that, that they’re motivating me, like they really do care about me.
They really don’t, you know, I have an aunt that died when she was about my age of heart disease. And back then I was about the same size as her and so, I think this person really is trying to in … they think they’re being funny kind of motivating way. They care about me, but they don’t realize what that looks like and how that hurts, but that’s just kinda how they roll. They’re just that kind of person.
And I’ve also had to realize that, you know, there are people around the world, especially Christians, who have forgiven way worse things than that. People have forgiven their pastors. People have forgiven, you know, people who’ve raped their child or caused an accident that took one of their loved ones. I certainly can learn to get over someone makin’ a back-handed comment about my weight, but it still hurts and you’re right. We feel the freedom to fling it when we’re—
Karen: –with extended family.
Jim: –yeah, it’s that moment, but I can hear the pain of that—
Jim: –and how that cuts very deeply for you and it’s true. Those are things that we need to forgive, but how do you find the capacity to do that, when you get stung with a verbal jab that we’ve been talkin’ about these past couple of days? What do you do? Can you give us some help in that regard? ‘Cause there are many people who are in that spot. Maybe just right now somebody was wounded by a word and they’re sitting in their car, frustrated and they don’t know what to do. What would you say to them?
Karen: Two things helped me to realize all that Christ went through for me and all the pain and the suffering and the rejection that He went through and He endured it and He understands, so I can cry out to him. I can pour out my heart to Him and He does understand.
And then actually, the second thing is, a quote my daughter said to me when she was a young teen. She saw it on a movie. I don’t know exactly where it came from, but it was the quote that, “Being bitter toward someone, continuing to harbor those grudges and just being bitter because someone did something or said something to you, bitterness is like sipping on poison yourself and then expecting the other person to die.”
Karen: You’re not hurting them. You’re only hurting yourself by continuing to dwell on it and just being so angry about it. I have been trying for decades to get them to act differently and they’re not gonna. Guess what? They’re just … that’s just how they roll. They hurt people in their life, like that’s not just me, so I need to not take it personally.
You know, Jesus empathizes with me. He sympathizes with me. He understands me and I’m not gonna choose to be bitter and wound myself further by dwelling on it. I’m gonna just forgive them, let it go and go on and it’s hard. It’s like the muscle thing. It’s hard the first couple of times, but I can honestly say, I have a great relationship with that person now. I’ve learned not to expect anything different from them. That’s just how they roll. I continue to answer in a way that’s kind and loving, so I don’t have any regrets when I walk away from the family reunion.
Karen: I can’t control their behavior. I can only control my reaction to their behavior.
Jim: Well, and it’s so well-said, because that’s where I think the Lord’s saying, “My peace I give to you.”
Jim: And when you can—
Jim: –fold into Him and not be bitter like you said, that’s what gives you the strength to love that person in a way that is not human.
Jim: It’s godly.