I can remember being 11 years old and talking so much that my mom had to tell me to stop babbling. Most people who know me now couldn't imagine me not only speaking that many words but saying them fast enough that it would be considered babbling. That was a turning point in my life, a time when I came to realize that every thought that came to my head didn't need to come out of my mouth.
Growing up, I learned the art of sarcasm. It seemed that among the people I knew witty retorts were required currency to attain status in our society. So, I did what I had to do to put myself on top of that mountain. I may not have been cool or athletic, but I could throw a verbal jab with the best of them. I thought that earned me some respect.
I reached a point somewhere in adulthood that I had heard from quite a few different people that if I opened my mouth, you could be sure a smart-alec comment would be coming out of it. I had even taught my children that they needed to be able to take and dish out insults. It was just a normal part of life.
One day in my early thirties, I was hanging out with a friend of mine, and he said to me, "You know, you're pretty mean." He wasn't mad at me or had taken any offense at something I had said. It just came up in casual conversation. I was shocked. I had never thought of myself as a mean person. Not overly friendly maybe, but I considered myself to be nice to everyone I met. All the sarcasm and insults were just what friends do. It never meant anything. I brushed it off as something I would keep an eye on, but it would work itself out.
At 35, I found Jesus. Putting it down on paper makes it sound so simple, but my life was flipped upside down. I couldn't behave or talk the way I used to. It's not just that I felt convicted. I had no desire to act the way I had my whole life and I'm not sure I would have even been able to anymore. So, I got quiet.
For years of my life, I had barely practiced having normal conversation. If I couldn't depend on my quips to get me through, it seemed as though I had nothing to say. So, when I suddenly felt convicted for the way I talked to people, no words came out. It wasn't that I wanted to be mean. I simply didn't know how to be nice. There’s a famous motherly quote: "If you can't something nice, don't say anything at all."
Around the same time of getting saved, I got my own delivery route at the Post Office. I found that being in the same place at the same time every day on my route meant that some of my customers who were more advanced in age would be waiting for me to show up at their house. Whenever I would get there, they would regale me with stories of their life, the latest antics of their grandchildren, complaints about their neighbors or, in one man's case, complaints about the government.
He was probably in his seventies, and he would wait out in his yard in his red bathrobe with his overweight chihuahua yapping at me. He loved to stop me to tell me all about how the government wasn't giving him the right amount of social security, his insurance wasn't paying enough for his medical bills, or how he didn't like someone who had been elected. I never knew someone could find so many things to complain about. I really wanted to finish working so I could make sure to pick up my children from school on time, but this poor man always looked so miserable that I didn't want to tell him I couldn't talk.
One day, he stopped coming outside to meet me for his mail and therapy session. I never asked what happened, but I could feel the emptiness from his wife and his son who lived across the street. He wouldn't be complaining to me anymore. After that, I would see his wife outside and bring her the mail so she wouldn't try to push her walker all the way to street. She told me that it had always made her husband happier after talking to me about his problems and she was grateful to me.
I've had many other customers that loved to stop and talk with me that have passed away since then. I have some that are still around, waiting for me on a regular basis. If there's one thing I've learned, it can change someone's life if you stop and listen to them.