Perhaps the most succinct and powerful six words in The Merton Prayer are “Nor do I really know myself.” As a trial attorney I am regularly tempted to bring my “cross examination” techniques home and pound my family with such blistering words. Awkward, at best, right? Devastating to a healthy family relationship, at worst, right? “Stop it, you are not in a deposition or a trial!” are words I heard, not infrequently, from a spouse or from children as they got older!
With age comes wisdom, hopefully, and at some point, I began practicing a “breath prayer” which really helps me stop inflicting such pain on my family – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, help me think and feel before I speak.” Thinking before speaking was not good enough, I discovered; I needed to go one step further and ask myself, “how will this person hearing my words feel if I say x, y, z?” The answer to this second question usually resulted in my NOT saying the words which were right there on the tip of my tongue! I shared this recently at a workshop on The Merton Prayer and one participant commented later that while he loved Merton’s prayer, he would also strive to implement “The Denny Prayer” in his daily life!
Solomon knew this so well – in Proverbs 18:13 – “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” Sorry to say that only later in life have I really come to “know myself” and realize that I always need to bridle my sharp tongue by stopping, thinking, and analyzing how my unspoken stream of words could make others feel.
I recall a story the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung told in his wonderful book Memories, Dreams, and Reflections about a patient whose family could not stand to be around him. Dr. Jung’s prescription for his patient was this: spend one hour alone in silence every day for a week. At the next appointment the patient beamed with praise to Dr. Jung, “That was marvelous. I loved this assignment. I went to my study, and the first night I saw a book on my shelf by Herman Hesse which I had not read for years, and I spent several hours reading it. Another night I grabbed a Mozart album I had not listened to for years and thoroughly loved listening to his music.”
Dr. Jung was horrified and said, “No no no, I told you to spend an hour in silence by yourself, not with Herman Hesse or Mozart!” to which the patient said, “Oh my goodness, that would be awful, just to sit there by myself in silence for an hour! There is no way I could do that!” to which Dr. Jung said, “and yet that is the persona you inflict on your wife and children! If you cannot stand to be alone with yourself, then how on earth do you expect them to enjoy being with you?” Ouch. This patient clearly “did not really know himself.”
May The Merton Prayer help you look inward to learn more about yourself than you ever saw before; and then may you be blessed with a stronger connection to God and to your own True and False Selves.
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One thought on “Putting a Bridle on My Tongue”
Great practice to try from time-to-time!