Are you governed by the future?
Last week, in attempting to dig deeper into the meaning of discreet, I wrote about being circumspect and tactful. The Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines circumspection as the skill of paying "attention to all circumstances and possible consequences." Those three last words are another key to the definition of discreet: "and possible consequences."
Two other words consistently came up in my study of what it means to be discreet. One was prudent and the other judicious. The best definition I've ever heard for prudent is this: making decisions today based on how it will affect the future. Prudence is the particular quality of looking down the road, of considering how my present actions will determine and shape the future—or, as Webster puts it, thinking about the possible consequences of my words and actions.
Often when we're in the heat of the moment and we're allowing our emotions to dictate our actions, we don't consider the possible consequences of our words and attitudes. When emotions rule, we generally don't care about the possible consequences. We aren't thinking about the future. But if we are going to become women who are discreet, we must be self-possessed and mindful of the future ramifications of our words and actions upon others. We cannot afford to allow our emotions to rule us; they are too volatile and undependable, too "in the moment."
Prudence is a character quality that must be developed; it doesn't come naturally. It is an attribute of God that He calls us to emulate. Proverbs has a lot to say about prudence. In fact, the opening verses of Proverbs state that one of the goals of the book is to teach prudence to the simple (i.e., those who have not yet learned wisdom). Proverbs 8:12 says, "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion." Wisdom and prudence go together; they are inseparable. Isn't it interesting that when we follow the path of wisdom and prudence, we will find discretion. When we act prudently, we are learning to be discreet.
I have a memory that has lodged in my mind from nearly forty years ago: a close friend shared with me one of her "aha" moments from her time in the Word of God. She had been reading Proverbs and came to Proverbs 12:16 (NKJV): "A fool's wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame." Her version had translated the verse in this way: "A fool's vexation shows at once." The Holy Spirit of God convicted her about her own propensity as a mother to get vexed quickly at her children. The clear label of "fool" in this verse caught her up short. She repented and began to ask God to teach her prudence and patience.
Often times we don't realize that vexation, frustration, irritability, etc. are all "nice" words for anger (or wrath as the NKJV puts it). Wrath sounds so big, so harsh. Vexation, frustration, and irritability sound small and normal—and allow us to blame others (husband, children, circumstances, tiredness . . . the list goes on and on!) for our negative attitudes.
Another memory that looms large in my mind is the day God the Holy Spirit clearly spoke this thought to me: frustration is just a nice word for anger. I can still picture where I was when that thought stopped me in my tracks. I had been allowing the press of circumstances to dictate my emotions, causing me to feel quite justified in my frustration. But those around me (primarily my children and my husband) saw it and received it as anger. Like my friend, I finally saw it for the sin that it really was, and I began to realize how damaging vexation and frustration are to relationships. God was teaching me prudence.
Another definition of prudence is to act sensibly or judiciously. Judicious is defined as "characterized by sound judgment" (Merriam-Webster), or "exercising good or discriminating judgment, wise, sensible, well-advised" (dictionary.com). As we saw in Proverbs 8:12, to act wisely and sensibly is to make decisions with an awareness of future consequences. This is acting with common sense, whether we're thinking about how to spend our money and our time, or about how we respond to our family, friends, and acquaintances. To think, speak, and make decisions judiciously, we have to ask ourselves, "How will this affect the future?"
Discretion has its eye further down the road and does not react out of the present moment or out of our feelings. Discretion holds the reins on emotions and immediate desires and does not allow them to run away with us. Discretion considers long-range goals, speaking and acting in ways that shape the future vision into reality—one of joy and peace and blessing.
May you be blessed this Thanksgiving season as you live out the beauty of discretion.