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Slow to write

Restraint isn’t popular in journalism or life, but it’s often the way to the truth

Slow to write

(Rawpixel/iStock)

Sometimes the work of a reporter feels like something akin to an iceberg. I don’t mean work that’s cold, isolated, and potentially destructive, though journalism apart from heart and humility can become just those things. 

Instead, I’m thinking of how much work is unseen. Most of the work that readers see from journalists is the tip of a giant mass of unseen thoughts, phone calls, site visits, emails, reading, conversations, ponderings, and (for a Christian reporter) praying. It’s all below the surface, and if we discover there’s no story, it’s possible none of it sees the light of day.

I sometimes see one of my stories in print, and can’t believe how much work it took to produce that little collection of 1,800 words. And sometimes I’m chagrined that, no matter how many times I checked, one (or more) of those words is incorrect.

The amount of detail required in accurate reporting can be overwhelming. It’s the nature of the job—just like a thousand other jobs that require precision—so it’s not grounds for complaining. But in recent years I’ve begun to think of it as cause for wonder.

In moments when I feel ground down by how much time I can spend making sure the wording in a single sentence is correct (and sometimes still come up short), I’ve begun to think about a verse from Proverbs 30: “Every word of God proves true. …” 

Do we grasp how astounding this is? 

In a culture blazing full of nonstop tweets, news feeds, blog posts, podcasts, and television hosts saying so many words that we’re often not sure what’s true anymore, it’s awe-inducing to consider: Every word of God proves true.

It sets a high standard for our own speech: We should strive to speak only truthful words, and to speak them in love. That takes a lot of work, and we often fail. 

But the second half of the verse in Proverbs also adds a comfort: “He is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” 

When our words are either sinful or mistaken, the God of perfect truth is also a God of grace to those who seek Him in Christ. The difficulty of speaking true words—and the regret of speaking untrue or unkind ones—should cause us to stand in awe of a God whose words are always true, and who forgives us when ours fail again.

The Proverbs are full of warnings about words, including many admonitions to just shut up sometimes. There’s a time to speak and a time to be silent. Wisdom requires knowing the time, or at least trying to make the distinction. 

Every torrent of words flowing online doesn’t require a response, even if it seems urgent in the moment and everyone else is commenting. Other times, it’s unwise to stay quiet.

How do we decide? 

Often case by case, both in journalism and everyday life, but here’s a template I find helpful from another verse in Proverbs: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Are my words aimed at inflicting another blow, or are they aimed at promoting the good of others, even when it requires saying hard things? That’s another high standard we often miss, but one that will bring us closer to becoming like Christ, who lived a perfect life in a time just as sinful as ours.

I’m convicted even as I think about it, but I’m glad to know this: God had the first word, as He spoke the world into existence, and He will have the final word, when His Son—the Word made flesh—returns to judge the earth and make all things new, including our patterns of speech. 

I’m glad those words are true.

Comments

  • symphbookgirl
    Posted: Fri, 05/11/2018 08:22 pm

    Thank you, Jamie. There's so much that goes on behind the scenes of what's finally produced and I appreciate your observations on the subject.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Fri, 05/11/2018 08:59 pm

    A good reminder for us all.  If the number of words posted measures the need for this lesson, then I am the "chief of sinners"--or near the top, anyway.  I only hope that I get better at posting uplifting things.

  • Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Sat, 05/12/2018 09:56 am

    This essay is spot on. I was going to share an anecdote from my life here; however, I have a more recent one (a few minutes ago) due to another thread in World. There is a commenter whose words are graceless in responding to another commenter's public act of contrition and repetence (re: the Paige Patterson article) and my knee jerk reaction was to shame the graceless person but with Jamie's words and the accompanying biblical wisdom in mind I refrained. "[b]e quick to hear, slow to speak [or write], slow to anger" (James 1:19).

  • MARK ROTH
    Posted: Tue, 05/15/2018 01:58 pm

    Greg, I wish I could report this comment in a positive way. Or least "like" it a la Facebook or WordPress. Having neither option, I take this more perilous route (in that it involves stringing thoughts, letters. and words together). I salute your application of truth. And I bless you for sweetening the discourse. Thank you!

  • MamaC
    Posted: Sat, 05/12/2018 03:39 pm

    My first response was: Truer words were never written! But then of course, I immediately realized that my reaction was untrue. It is an excellent reminder, however, for all of us, and seems to have been efficacious already! Thank you for taking the time necessary to write it--every word!!

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sun, 05/13/2018 06:41 am

    Exellent thoughts! I wonder if all contributors and editors at World follow these simple, but challenging, guidelines.

    I am not a journalist. This is probably obvious. I try to type out a response or post in Word. If it seems controversial then I will let it set, even a day or two. Often this gives time for reflection as well as to pick softer words and phrases, even do a few rewites. Maybe I will not send, or post, it at all. The latter wins quite often! Often writing helps me think through a topic or issue or to come to grips with my own errors or confusion. That is all I need and I can keep it all to myself and not share my ignorance or anger with the rest of the world. 

    James 1:19 also fits here.

  • Hawkdriver
    Posted: Wed, 05/23/2018 02:57 pm

    Very encouraging. Thank you very much.

    I am a military officer. My wife and I are in the process of raising several teenagers and twenty somethings. Often times, I catch myself giving orders, expecting instant and unflinching obedience. I know God is at work in me, building his patience, His awesome strategic patience, in me. Your words help in that work.

    Saved by His Grace, by Faith in Christ alone.....just enjoying the Potter’s wheel.