Discretion is one of the attributes we see in Titus 2:5. Older women are “to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” And if older women are admonished to be discreet, we younger or middle-aged women should seek that goal, as well. As a woman now in my forties, I have noticed that this important attribute is taking years to develop. It has not come naturally for me, being from a family that valued openness almost to a fault. I was the child of a military family and we moved a lot. During some of my younger years, living far from where our family had roots, I picked up the notion that if you “held back” in any way, you were hiding something. To be “aloof” and private made you seem terribly suspicious.
While being open can be a good thing, being too open is not. You can overload people with details and a mouthful of unnecessary words. Proverbs 10:19 tells us, "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise." Given my own proclivities, this scripture always made me cringe. But knowing that, as Christians, we have to take every scripture into account, without adding or taking away (Deuteronomy 12:32), I had to consider this in more depth.
When I first read Paul's instruction "to be discreet," I had no idea what it meant. Yet, it is clearly something God wants me to incorporate into my womanhood, so I needed to find out. I looked it up, and the definition is instructive. My dictionary defines "discreet" as "having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech." Since then, I have meditated on what it means to be discreet and asked myself, "How can I internalize this?"
I know that true discernment comes from the Holy Spirit. Without God's help, proper discernment can be overcome by faulty and unguided human reasoning. Since discernment is a basis for true discretion, being discreet requires a close relationship with God, and being intimately aware of His word and instruction is vital. Prayer, fasting, Bible study and meditation are the tools we need to build that relationship with our Father and the Scripture. Good judgment in conduct and speech, as the dictionary defines, takes God's help, experience, and self-control.
With that as our foundation, then, we need to follow through in our actions. Discretion means practicing good judgment in conduct, and the emphasis on showing such judgment in our speech means we need to be particularly careful and thoughtful concerning the things we choose to say.
Principles of Discretion
There are a few things I have learned over the years on this journey to become more discreet—and I am still learning. Having always valued an outsized degree of openness—eager to provide an excess of details and information—I know I can go overboard very easily. But thinking carefully about what we say and how we say it is a skill we all can learn. Here are three principles I have found very helpful.
1. Say It Once
This first point sounds very simple, but it is also very helpful: When you have something to say, learn to simply say it once. My husband noticed that I would repeat myself often—not just to him, but to everyone. If someone disagreed with me or did not respond, or the person did not seem open to what I was saying, I would often repeat myself. "It is unnecessary to repeat yourself," my husband kindly told me. Say it once. We have to remember that others don't have to always agree with us, and respecting them means respecting their right to their own opinions and conclusions. Getting louder about a point or repeating it will not make any real impact—at least not the kind we want to make. And it certainly isn't the model of biblical discretion.
2. Less Is More
Details overwhelm people. It is helpful to re-evaluate just how many details we want to communicate, because sometimes "less is more."
Simplifying and saying just what is needed is often much more effective and helpful than adding loads of details that our listeners often don't need—and possibly don't want. Besides, sometimes we can later deeply regret saying something that would have been better left unsaid.
Think carefully about what information you want to provide. Say just enough, and always be especially careful with information about other people. Just because they shared something with you, doesn't automatically mean that they want it to be repeated to others. The best way to be certain about whether something shared with you should be repeated is to simply ask them if it is okay to share. For instance, if your best friend has told you that her dog is deathly ill, and you have another friend who is a veterinarian, practicing discretion might mean simply asking the first friend if it is OK to share. It's possible that she was simply opening up to you and doesn't want extra help. Perhaps she was simply seeking sympathy.
3. Take It to God
It is important to communicate and build relationships, and we all need to share, grow and learn from each other. But we need to make sure that we take issues to God first. If you feel like you are going to burst and need someone to talk to, He is the listening ear who thinks of your prayers like sweet incense (Psalm 141:2).
Jesus Christ agreed to give His life for you before you were even born (Revelation 13:8), and there is no one who wants more to hear from you. He experienced temptations as we do (Hebrews 4:15). He truly understands and cares. If the house is a mess, the kids are still busy making that mess, and your world seems turned upside with financial pressures and the modern stress of a hectic life—it is crucial to stop, kneel, and talk to God. If we take it to Him first, we can speak more confidently and discreetly with others, knowing that even if we don't share everything with someone else, we've shared it with the One with whom we can share everything. In talking to God first, we can in turn be stronger in conversation for someone else to lean upon.
In this frenzied world and our many communications, let us remember discretion. It does take more effort to think things through a little more and to practice self-control with our words. We should be gracious and open, while still leaving some matters private. All things should be carefully considered, but the end result is worth the effort! Let our speech reflect the praise of Proverbs 25:11, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."