When the doctor told me I needed to take vocal rest for a few weeks, I decided that I would take a silent retreat. I am on that retreat now. As I wrote in my first post, I feel like this retreat is one positive outcome of my vocal condition. You see, I’ve meant to take a silent retreat for a long time, and now I have a more forced reason to do it.
When I started this quiet little getaway, I thought my mind would flood with things to record. I thought I would have mental space to learn more from my season of silence. In reality, that has not been the case. I sat down tonight to contemplate what lessons I wanted to ponder and therefore blog about (yes, I blog to help me think more clearly). As I pondered what to write, I realized I had very little on my mind related to my silence. I’ve been thinking about a load of other things the last two days, but my silence has not been one of them. It was strange because before I started the retreat I had so many ideas.
So, my lack of ideas has now become the subject of this blog. Why is it that I suddenly stopped thinking about my vocal condition? The answer is found in the nature of speech combined with where I am at the moment. Speech is a social tool. I am currently away from my social world (on retreat), and therefore, I don’t notice my inability to speak. When one has no need of speech one doesn’t miss it. The deeper, more revealing, question is why did I feel such a need to speak when I was in my “social world?” I know I felt that need because when I am around others, whether at work or home, I am deeply frustrated by my inability to speak.
Praise & Understanding
There seems to be a common trend in the lessons I am learning, they all relate to my pride. But there is a second, often less noticeable sin at work in me. It is a lack of trust in God’s advocacy on my behalf. I want people to appreciate my strengths (pride) and I want them to understand my failings (lack of trust in God’s support).
“Eberhard Arnold observes: ‘People who love one another can be silent together.’ But when we’re with those we feel less than secure with, we use words to ‘adjust’ our appearance and elicit their approval. Otherwise, we fear our virtues might not receive adequate appreciation, and our shortcomings might not be properly ‘understood.’” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard, Page 165)
That quote hits the nail on the head for me. That is exactly what I tend to use my voice for. I seek praise or understanding. Willard goes on to ask why we should worry what others opinions of us are when God is for us and when Jesus Christ is pleading our interests (Rom. 8:31-34). I have no need to defend myself when Jesus is doing that for me with a far better reputation than mine.
I want to add one thought to the quote above. I’ve noticed that I spend more effort adjusting my appearance around certain people. I value some people’s opinions of me more than others. My wife receives the brunt of this; I tend to defend myself most to her, and I try to ensure she sees all my successes. She sees it the most because, out of anyone in the world, I want her to love me. There are other relationships that I now see are marked by a pursuit of praise. So if you catch me trying to elevate your view of me, chances are I value your opinion.
That may not sound like a terrible thing at first glance but let me make it seem worse for you. There is a profound reason I’ve subconsciously place people in a hierarchy of importance. The reason is Idolatry. You see we worship (value, make much of) only things that we think will bring us joy. If you somehow think being a Christian is not self-serving then you probably don’t understand the gospel (good news). Christianity is not a religion of self-denial it is ultimately a religion of ultimate fulfillment and joy in Christ. That is why we worship Jesus; he is meant to be our greatest value. So when I value one person’s opinion of me to the point where it causes me to commit the sins of boasting, I am demonstrating my worship of that person.
Is it, therefore, wrong to cherish a person’s praise or understanding? Is it wrong, for example, for me to value my wife’s opinion of me? Would not that value be an ultimate form of love? The thing about idols is, they need to be able to hold the weight of your soul. We value them because we hope they can fill us with everything we need, “hold the weight of our souls.” If I expect someone to hold the weight of my soul, I am not only committing idolatry; I am crushing them with the burden of making my world okay. I can’t seem to learn this lesson.
The only being in all the universe that is capable of holding the weight of souls is God. If the weight of my soul is firmly fixed in christ and my identity and value is secure there, then and only then can I cherish a person’s praise in a healthy way. I can cherish it because of my love for them without needing it or getting puffed up by it. If I am recognized for a virtue and I am able to recall that all true virtues out of Christ in me and I can be glad that I was a part of bringing a person I love joy.
Have you ever noticed there are three types of responses people have to a compliment? The first is the compliment shot blocker. These people, when complimented, have a way of reminding you that all good things are from God. Generally, we leave those people somehow feeling guilty for even offering them a compliment instead of simply praising God directly. The second type of person is the praise junky. These people seem to be puffed up by the compliment. They receive the words as obvious or an understatement of their actions. Often we feel obliged to compliment these people. Finally, there are a rare few who manage to receive a compliment as a blessing from your soul to theirs without being prideful about it. These people manage to deflect praise to God while at the same time delighting in being a part.
Again, I feel tremendous urges to speak when I want one of my idols to look down upon me and bless me. I hope to learn to let Christ be my advocate. I hope to learn to trust his approval rather than hunt for it among people I love. I only hurt them and myself when I get that mixed up.
What’s coming next
Up to this point, I’ve spent a huge amount of my time pondering all the negative parts of speech. In my next post, I want to explore a more positive twist. I hope that will come soon.