Over the last several weeks, as a result of a brief cold, I found myself with no voice. I damaged my vocal cords several years ago, so it doesn’t take much for me to lose my voice, but this time the loss was particularly long-lasting and frustrating. For someone who speaks for a living, it meant cancelling several talks and going on full-vocal rest to protect this valuable asset.
It was frustrating because I wasn’t in control. People kept asking me how I felt, and I felt, more or less, fine. But that didn’t mean I could (or should) speak. It was humbling because I had to admit that I couldn’t do anything I had committed to do for almost two weeks. And it was annoying because I couldn’t have fun with friends. For a girl who loves to talk, going on full vocal rest means becoming hermit. If I’m with someone, I talk to them. So I hunkered down alone for days, shutting my office door at work, a note of apology taped to the door, and staying home.
Like many frustrating experiences, it taught me a lot. It taught me – or rather, reminded me – that I like to be in control and am frustrated when I’m not. It reminded me of the beauty of slowing down and resting. And it taught me the beauty of silence.
I struggle with stopping to think before I speak. Suddenly, my thoughts couldn’t come tumbling out of my mouth. Rather than regretting my rash speech or trying to bite my tongue before sharing my (probably unwanted) opinion, all these things were just staying inside my head – where they are a lot less dangerous and easy to fight.
Forced to ration my speech even as my voice was getting stronger, I had to think carefully about what I wanted to say. Is it worth saying? I found myself weighing that constantly. Was my opinion at that moment really worth the strength and strain on my vocal cords? Should I share my thoughts on that situation? Was what I about to say edifying and constructive?
Is it worth saying?
Perhaps you struggle with the exact opposite – not speaking up when you should, not sharing your insights with those around you. But for someone who goes into the confessional regularly to confess sins relating to gossip, it was a beautiful ten days.
Now that my voice has returned, I want to continue to nurture that inchoate habit. Before the words come out of my mouth, is it worth saying?
I’m constantly reminded of the warning of St. James.
“If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:3-10)
The tongue is a “little member,” but can do great damage. It can also do wonderful things. We are fickle human beings, and our tongue can be an instrument for such good.. and such harm. We can gossip on our way into church and worship God five minutes later. The same little tongue. It’s such a powerful instrument in our quest for holiness.
Lord, give me the strength, wisdom, and right judgment to speak words that edify, heal, and teach; words that help build up your kingdom and not tear it down, words that bring peace and truth and not falsehoods and corruption. Lord, before I speak, may I stop to ask: is it worth saying?
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