“Brian, you really need to stop talking.”
John was right, of course, as had been all the others before him. The cold-that-had-become-bronchitis had shredded my voice and left me only a raspy whisper, and staying silent was good advice.
I wasn’t going to take it, though. It was the last day of the convention, and I wanted to converse with John, not simply to nod and walk by. I wanted to ask how he’d been and hear more about his engagement. He and I had met at last year’s convention and learned he’d studied at a college near us. He asked fondly about the area. He laughed readily, joked well, and spoke warmly, and he cared enough to tell me to stop talking.
“Keep company with the wise and you will become wise. If you make friends with stupid people, you will be ruined.” – Proverbs 13:20 (Good News Translation)
I love the Evangelical Press Association and the friends I’ve made through it. Last year’s convention in Denver was a blessing, and this year’s in Lancaster, Pa., was a welcome consolation to being delayed from Cape Town. There were so many classes to take, clarifications to ask, presenters to thank, and friends to greet. Losing my voice was a barrier to each of those.
So I talked and joked and laughed. I made new friends and learned new things. I shared about our work and family and found many people who’ll pray for both. I made connections with experts who can help guide me in using new tools and tactics to better tell the stories awaiting us in Africa.
Predictably, I lost my voice. By the end of the last day, there was nothing left but coughing, wincing pain, and some good reminders:
- Losing our voice hurts! Along with the physical pain, there was the sorrow of being unable to connect with others fully. It’s hard to engage deeply with someone who has to interpret pantomime and lip-reading, hard to affirm their thoughts or ask a question or share a connection. Dominating a conversation is certainly rude, but so is forcing the other person to do so.
- Worship wants to burst out even when constrained. The opening session featured music from Austin and Lindsey Adamec, a newlywed couple who serve as worship leaders at Christ’s Church in Jacksonville, Fl. The music was moving, and despite the discomfort, I sang along.
- A fun discovery was that losing one’s voice has no effect on one’s whistle. Simply by habit, I whistled a moment while awaiting the elevator and suddenly realized it sounded normal. I’m not vain about my voice, but I do like it and think it sounds pleasant; losing that was saddening as well as painful. To still have a way of expressing myself, to discover that I could still add something that sounded pleasant, was uplifting.
- “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” states Proverbs 17:22 (ESV). I might not have been able to talk much, but I could still connect joyfully and joke with others. Few jokes were available, but poking fun at my pitiful voice was helpful.
There are times to take John’s advice and stop talking. There are times to listen, times to be silent in protest or respect, times to give up our voice so that another can be heard. But there are also times that we must speak up, especially to help those who can’t.
How painful it is to have something to say and not have a voice, to feel trapped within oneself, unable to express one’s values or thoughts or needs. I experienced that for a few days, but there are many around the world who live their whole lives in silence imposed by legal, social, economic, geographic, or educational barriers.
My voice will return, but some will never have one. It is for them that I seek to use mine. Theirs are the stories I long to tell, not mine (which is why I often neglect this blog while I have no access to interviewing them).
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” – Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)
SIM’s web site once asked me, “Has God gifted you with the ability to write and edit? Have you thought of using these gifts in missions?” Yes, He did, and He also put in my heart the desire to give those gifts back to Him.
I’ll never save the world by the things I say or the words I write. No video I ever make will redeem the world through my artistry. No picture I ever take can show a person as God sees him or her.
But those things can help. They can inform others, inspire them to get involved, and encourage them to remember that God is working to redeem the world. Not just someday but now. Not just through miracles but through members of His body. Even through words and pictures and videos.
God has already written the stories into His beloved children’s lives. He’s already painted the beauty into this world. He’s already figured out what He wants us to say. He’s just giving us the chance to participate.
It turns out I’m not even the One Whose voice is waiting to go out. And that is a very good reminder.
“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” – Psalm 126:2 (ESV)