“O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not the spirit of idleness (ἀργίας, праздности), despondency, lust of power, and idle talk / idle words (ἀργο-λογίας, праздно-словия).“ (Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem, part 1)
It is important for us to talk and to share with one another our thoughts, sorrows, joys, and so on. No doubt about it. In fact I think we don’t do enough of that today, when we are so often “alone together,“ even as a family, with each member staring into his or her computer/phone while sitting at the same table. Nonetheless, there is such a thing as “idle talk/words,“ so let me reflect on that a bit. What is it?
Just like “idleness” (ἀργία, from ἀ-ἐργία, or “not doing”) means “not doing” what I am supposed to be doing, how, when and why I am supposed to be doing it, so does my “idle” use of words (ἀργο-λογία), whether spoken, written, or typed on my computer, mean my “not saying” what I am supposed to be saying, how, when and why I am supposed to be saying it, according to my vocation. So, “idle words” involve the inappropriate and untimely use of words, as well as their use with the wrong motivation. “Idle words” are always unconstructive, unproductive ones, which do more harm than good both to myself and others.
What are some of the “wrong” motivations for using words, and why are they harmful? I can, for example, “over-talk” about my certain aspirations or problems, out of self-assertion, self-justification, or self-pity. The harm in that is, I may be avoiding the silent contemplation of these issues; avoiding listening for the answers God may be sending me toward their further resolution, either through other people or otherwise. So I am blocking out the answers through my own words. I can similarly over-talk to God, motivated by the harmful assumption that my “many words” can or should manipulate His will. But my Lord warns me, “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words…” (Mt 6: 7)
So let me be reminded today of something I recently read (in the “Harvard Business Review,” if you want to know). It’s a bit of advice very useful in matters both practical and spiritual: “Silence is a greatly underestimated source of power… In silence, it can be easier to reach the truth.” Let me stop my own words, when they cease to be of service, and become a bit more teachable, in silence and openness to God’s voice in my life.