Quieting my Voice2
I had a conversation with a very good ministry friend the other day and he put words to something that I was thinking but had not yet expressed. I am going to paraphrase here: He said that ultimately, he is running out of words to say in response to all that has been happening in the world. But the problem is that as a pastor, he feels an internal pressure to speak wise words into everything. First it was the pandemic, then social distancing, then the fallout from the economy, then the brutal killing of Ahmed Arbery, then the unspeakable murder of George Floyd, then peaceful protests, then riots, then the president making a statement in front of a church, then…
In all of these situations, we as pastors feel pressure both internal and external to speak the truth of God. But what happens when you just don’t know what to say? What happens if you have run out of the words that can help others gain perspective?
Now I want to make a couple of things clear. This lack of words does not stem from a loss of faith, an inability to see God, or some kind of pastoral “woe is me”. I don’t even necessarily want encouragement or guidance on what should be said. There is a lot of good stuff out there right now. But pastors are real people just like everyone else. As we struggle with all that is going on and how it affects our families, our churches, our communities and our world, fatigue can set in. We aren’t just looking for Godly answers for ourselves, we are looking for answers for you as well.
Those of you who know me well know that I am not the most overtly social of people. I definitely am a social person, but I am an introvert. Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be around people (most of the time). Instead it means that it takes a great deal more effort for me to be social with people. I have been in charge of all of the church’s social media and online content over the last few months and while I have enjoyed some of it, it has also taken a huge amount of energy to keep it going. I marvel at how some of my friends (who were already using social media effectively) have increased their online presence and are consistently putting out good content. One friend is doing two live broadcasts a day. I can’t even imagine doing that.
I want to put the truth out into the world. I want to speak God’s presence, his kingdom, his love, and his desire for justice into the world which so desperately needs to know all of this and more. But sometimes I don't know what to say, or how to say it. This was driven home to me as I sat down on Monday to write something to my church about the racial and social unrest that has been a product of the murder of George Floyd, and racial injustice in our country. I was struck by the fact that as a white male, the words that I want to speak may be coming from a good heart, but from the wrong angle. I really wrestled with this and the mounting pressure I felt to speak something into the space that we have.
So, I prayed about it. My family is not with me this week, so I had a lot of time to pray. I prayed and then I prayed some more. One word kept coming back to me over and again through my prayer. That word was “listen”. I started praying about the word “listen” and what I should be listening to. Here is the conclusion that I came to. I have spent too much time focused on content over the last several months. I have spent too much time thinking and praying about what I am going to say and how I am going to say it. In all of this seeking for words, I have neglected to listen. That is not to say that I have not been listening at all. God has been showing me some things that are really resonating with my heart and speaking a truth that I have not fully grasped before. But I realized that I was immediately trying to turn those revelations around to something I can communicate to others. I was shorting out my listening by trying to turn what God has been changing in me into a product for others.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
That brings me to today. I think that the best thing I can speak into this moment in time is the gospel. God loves people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, shapes, and sizes. God does not tolerate injustice. He desires that his people be a people of mercy, grace, justice and peace. He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
But…I don’t have to explain racism or what the church’s reaction should be. Instead as someone who speaks, as a white middle class male religious leader, it is my turn to listen to perspectives that I cannot possibly understand. It is time for me to learn from those who can show me the areas that I have been unable to see because of my privilege. It is time for me to understand how the gospel speaks healing into these areas that I have been able to pretend don’t exist.
It is time for me to listen.