Words Never Spoken

I once had to do something really mean to a character and it took me by surprise. The story needed it, but I didn’t know until all of a sudden, while I was writing, it hit me—what I had to do—and it left me feeling a little sick.

            Oh no. Not that. This is gonna hurt.

But it had to be done. For the sake of the story. Writers are cruel, cruel beings.

So I took a breath and apologized out loud to my character before I stabbed her in the back. Then I fleshed out the scene, blew my nose, and took my kids to the park as promised to meet a few other moms and kids. But I was just so sad. I did my best to hide it—I was living in the land of fiction after all. Besides, what would I have said if someone had asked?

Rachel you seem down. What’s wrong?

Amber had to go through something really harsh today.

Amber? Who’s Amber?

My imaginary friend. I pretty much destroyed her. I think she’s mad at me but it had to be done.

And then a look of alarm mixed with pity would pass over the face of the person who asked, who was just trying to be nice.

So instead, I ate my Cheetos and chit-chated about the rising price of avocados and ended up having a pleasant time. A refreshing break from the havoc I’d just wreaked in fiction land.

But what does this have to do with real life?

A lot actually.

Most of us, at one point or another, have had to contain our sadness, put on a smile and keep our pain to ourselves. Maybe for the sake of someone else, maybe for our own sake. Maybe to squelch gossip. Maybe because it’s not the time or place to spill our guts. Whatever the reason, sometimes—often actually—life requires discretion.

Withholding bits of our heart doesn’t mean we’re being fake or shallow; sometimes it means we’re being self-controlled. Discerning. If we never share any heartache with anyone, then yes—it’s time for self-examination, time to go deeper with a trusted friend—but utter transparency isn’t a gauge for authenticity; verbosity doesn’t measure spirituality.

Sometimes we need to be quietly sad. Sometimes we need to hold our tongue, even when it hurts, even if we feel misunderstood. Sometimes our own voice—our own desire to be heard—drowns out that still small voice whispering to our soul.

Among my most prized possessions are words that I have never spoken.

–Orson Scott Card


The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint… Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.

 —Proverbs 17:27-28

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