Most of us have heard that silence is golden. But sometimes silence can hurt. 

We held one of those infamous garage sales at our home recently - the kind where you clean out closets, drag out forgotten things from under beds, and purge the garage of stacked "stuff" that won't fit into your house. It's always fun to meet the interesting people who stop by to view your wares. Occasionally, they'll stay long enough to share personal stories.

This sale was no exception. An attractive boomer-age woman who came by told us of an experience that happened to her mother years earlier. This is my paraphrase of her story: 

Her mom had just moved to a large metropolitan area and was hoping to meet and make friends in her new home. She joined several organizations, including a local church. But no one would befriend her. No one even spoke to her.

Is it my deodorant? My clothes? The way I talk? A hundred questions raced through her mind, but she found no answers. Women seemed to avoid her as if she had a contagious disease. No one spoke to her or invited her to their home.

Finally, her mother decided to confide in one woman whom she respected, one of the women leaders in the church women's organization. "What's wrong with me? Have I angered someone? Why is everyone avoiding me?"

The woman leader frowned slightly and looked around, then spoke in a hushed tone. "Are you sure you want to know?"

"Of course, I do. Please, if you know something, tell me!"

The leader continued in a soft whisper-voice. "It's-it's the company you keep."

"The company I keep? What do you mean?"

She took a deep breath and said, "It's your lifestyle. You have police cars coming and going to your house, night and day. A woman of your reputation and your kind of company, um, doesn't exactly paint a good, wholesome picture. The ladies are offended by this kind of activity.

Her mother's eyes widened as a she tried to stifle a grin. "Would you do me a favor? Ask some of the ladies to come to my home this Tuesday for lunch. I'd like to show you something."

"Well, um, I don't know…." The woman stammered, shaking her head.

"Please, just ask. You and the ladies come at 12:00 Noon this Tuesday. I'll have lunch waiting."

The ladies decided to go together as a group and accept her mother's invitation. But when they arrived at Noon on Tuesday, just as they expected, police cars surrounded her mother's home. Her mom invited the women in and took them immediately to her kitchen where she had prepared lunch. Eight uniformed police officers sat at the kitchen table, eating lunch.

Turning to the women, then pointing to the policemen, her mother smiled and said, "I want you to meet some special people in my life: "This is my husband, my brother, my son, my son-in-law, my brother-in-law, my nephew… They're all police officers."

The mother had no problem with friendships from that point on.

Silence is not always golden. And the absence of words can do just as much damage as speaking harmful ones. We may not start a juicy morsel of gossip. But saying nothing is just as bad, especially if we believe without checking out the truth for ourselves.

Words originate with thoughts. And God knows the thoughts of our hearts. Things are not always as they seem. Judging-or jumping-to the wrong conclusions can discourage the hearer. And who hasn't been the victim growing up at one time or another with the powerful effects of "the silent treatment?" To "ice" others by refusing to acknowledge their presence or to express our disapproval of them may prove a point, but it won't win friends. Both of these methods involve an intentional withdrawal of affection. It's so-pharisaical and just plain, mean-spirited.

God knows our need for encouragement. "Encourage one another daily," states Hebrews 3:13. Encouraging words are like warm blankets that ward off hurtful, icy blasts. And in the wintertime moments of our lives, we all need a warm blanket.

Have you ever misjudged someone? Or been the object of someone's hurtful gossip? How has someone been a "warm blanket" for you with their encouraging words? Remembering how it feels may help you go searching in your spiritual closet for some spare blankets. That kind should never be sold in a garage sale. Instead, dispense freely to everyone you meet.

Rebecca Barlow Jordan is a best-selling author, speaker, and greeting card writer who has written eleven books and over 1700 inspirational pieces, including her new book series with Zondervan: Day-votions for Women, Day-votions for Mothers, and Day-votions for Grandmothers. You can purchase these books and others on her website, www.rebeccabarlowjordan.com or sign up for her newest blog/newsletter, where this article first appeared, at www.rebeccabarlowjordan.com/blog. Rebecca's  Daily in Your Presence devotionals are also featured among Crosswalk.com's daily devotional offerings.

Original publication date: March 31, 2010