I am a loud woman. At least, I feel like I am. It’s not that I have a thundering voice, and I’m no Janice from Friends (at least I hope not!), but I’m not afraid to speak up. I can be loud loud, but mostly I’m just stick-my-foot-in-my-mouth loud.
As long as I can remember, I have struggled to keep a rein on my tongue. I have said some of the dumbest things in the world, just because I had to fill the silence. It’s one of the pitfalls of being a verbal processor.
My husband is the opposite. He processes internally, so he usually thinks before he speaks. In fact, I used to tease him for taking so long to answer my questions. I even used to make a game of it: I would ask him a question, and he would say nothing. Seconds would pass, and I’d wonder, “Maybe he didn’t hear me…but maybe he’s still thinking. I’ll give him another minute.” More seconds would pass. “Surely he didn’t hear me, but I’ll wait a little longer.” MINUTES would pass. “Ok seriously, there’s no way he heard me! ”
But then, just as I’d open my mouth to repeat the question, he would answer. He had heard me, but he was considering how to reply.
Over the years Ike has learned to give me verbal cues, like, “Let me think about it for a moment,” so that I don’t have to sit there wondering whether or not to repeat the question. But suffice it to say, he is at a much lower risk of misspeaking than I am, and I have learned a lot from him as a result.
Since college, when I first realized the looseness of my tongue, I have prayed that God would tame it. He has, ever so slowly, which is a wonderful grace. But I still have a lot of room to grow, and lately God has opened my eyes to a new strategy in my struggle.
For the longest time, I have spoken up because I thought that, somehow, if I was loud enough, smart enough, convincing enough, I could make people see things my way. I could make my husband agree with me. I could make that non-Christian understand the gospel. I could make that mean commenter see their error. I could make my friend stop her destructive behavior.
Over time I have learned that I can’t make anyone do anything. I think most of us learn this lesson at some time or another, and it’s a hard lesson to learn. But, it doesn’t mean we are helpless. Nor does it mean we should do nothing, or that we should stay silent. Not necessarily, anyway.
Instead it means that the human voice–human loudness–has its limits. It means that sometimes, the best way to be heard is to let the Holy Spirit be your megaphone.
What I mean by that is this. People have two kinds of ears: their physical ears and their spiritual ears. And the two aren’t always connected. I can shout someone down, or offer convincing arguments, and they will hear me with their physical ears. But they probably won’t hear me on the level of their soul. As Jesus put it, they have ears, but still they cannot hear (Mark 8:18).
That’s because spiritual ears don’t always respond to the human voice. What they do respond to is the Spirit (Rev. 2). Which makes sense. Physical ears hear the physical voice, and spiritual ears hear the Spirit.
All of that to say, God has been teaching me to be loud in a different way. When I really want to be heard or to communicate myself, I pray for the Holy Spirit to amplify me.
This strategy has been especially helpful in my marriage, when I heap on the verbal arguments–or more often, the verbal encouragements–but they fail to penetrate my husband’s spirit. In the face of my own verbal limitations, I am learning to back off the “convincing,” and instead pray for the Holy Spirit to make my words loud in his heart.
It’s also helpful for engaging those with whom I disagree. I can try to argue someone into submission, or I can pray the Holy Spirit will amplify my witness, making it loud and compelling in their spiritual ears.
And of course, I am learning to pray for my own spiritual ears as well. After all, my husband’s heart may not be the one in need of moving. When I pray for his ears to hear, I pray for mine also.
The human voice is a limited tool. Its loudness is not, at the end of the day, all that loud. When unaccompanied by the Spirit, its effectiveness is rather small. And as Scripture warns–and as I have experienced–the tongue can do great harm.
That’s why I am so grateful to have the Holy Spirit as my megaphone. I don’t have to make myself loud, and I don’t have to make people change. Instead I can rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, instead of my own.
Hopefully, as I learn to do this, I’ll be sticking my foot in my mouth a whole lot less!