Saying the “Right Thing” at the “Right Time”

I did a funeral a few years ago for a real practical joker. His family loved him dearly and his son had “picked-up the mantel” of pranks and teases. So, it was only fitting that when Dad died, his son attached a whoopee cushion noisemaker to the bottom of the casket. The machine was operated by remote control so that he could “let it rip” from anywhere in the room.

People would somberly walk up to the casket, peer in, and as they were contemplating Dad’s mortality as well as their own, “Rrrrrrrrrttttttt!”

Reactions differed. Some gave an embarrassed poke to their spouse next to them. Others stood in shock with their jaws on the floor wondering how it was biologically possible for a dead person to pass gas. Some just laughed and searched the room to find the guilty party giggling hysterically in the corner with his remote control in hand.

My favorite part of the morning was the Governor’s Honor Guard. The deceased had been a member of this elite troop such that they marched in uniform up to his casket, did an about face and with their backs to the casket, stood at attention for a brief presentation. That was the moment my friend pushed the button.  “Rrrrrrrrippppptttttzzzz!”

The soldiers tried to stare straight ahead, but their searching eyes said it all. Each of them was trying to figure out which of their comrades had eaten a burrito before the funeral. They tried to analyze what had happened, while trying to maintain composure and decorum.

While crass, it WAS funny…

When it came time for me to preach the funeral message, I made a detour on the way to the pulpit. Instead of walking straight to the front, I first walked down the aisle to my prankster friend, leaned over to him and gave him the following comfort in his time of grief.

If you touch that button while I’m preaching, you’re going to join your Dad in that casket—do you understand me?”

Sometimes you just have to know what to say to those suffering a loss….

Seriously, knowing what to say and when to say it is difficult–seemingly impossible at times. Speakers, preachers, sales people, all of us struggle with this issue. I find the toughest scenario regarding communication and timing to be int he day-to-day interaction between husbands and wives.

It seems that married people often are silent when they should speak or they speak when they should be silent. Often it’s the wife’s challenge in saying something that’s encouraging versus inflammatory.

So how can we “fix” this problem? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Before you speak or choose to remain silent, ask this simple question–“What would this person find most encouraging or helpful right now?” If you can’t answer that question, pray about it and maybe ask someone else for advice before you act or speak.
  2. Consider the personality of your partner. My book “Whole 4 Life” looks at this in detail, but if you know the personal style of your partner, you also know how he/she communicates.
  3. Stay positive and hopeful. Even if you must give a criticism or suggestion, couch it in positive, forward-looking terms. Nobody likes to be beat-up and left lying there. Make even the negative points in the context of positive improvement you believe is possible.
  4. Use scripture or encouraging quotes. Sometimes you don’t have to say anything original, you just need to let someone else do the talking for you.
  5. Most importantly, ask questions. Often, what your partner REALLY needs isn’t your mouth–it’s your ears. If you’re in doubt about what to say, it may be an indication of your partner’s need to be heard first. Stephen Covey put it well in his book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” He said we should “Seek first to understand…then, to be understood.”

We offer helpful resources on communication on our resources page. These include my book, “Communicate to Lead” as well as the aforementioned, “Whole 4 Life.” Click Here to learn more.


Pastor Joel

1 thought on “Saying the “Right Thing” at the “Right Time””

  1. Been there, done all that. Got the T shirt for it and a mouth full of marbles for my troubles
    I’ll admit that my times with Tonya weren’t always, How shall I say? the ideal romance
    there were times when. I needed to keep my mouth closed Because I am no stranger
    to kicking the teeth out of my mouth when I speak

    it can be often harsh/critical and while I am not aiming to hurt feelings there is
    that sting that can leave a lasting presence if you are not careful

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