I hate being wordless.
Not that I mind silence. I’m perfectly happy with silence most of the time, and not just when I’m alone. I think that there is a level of relationship in which words are not necessary, when two people can be in each other’s presence and just enjoy each others presence without speaking. But that can’t be always, and it takes time for a relationship to get to that point.
And when you are thrust into a position with someone you don’t know, silence is pretty darn awkward. In the first few days of my first year in college at Baylor, the university would schedule things called “freshman mixers” which were designed to help people get to know each other and make new friends. Well, I was 1,400 miles from home, in a foreign land (Texas) and I didn’t know anybody except my roommate, whom I had just met, so going to a mixer seemed like a good idea. Free food, a couple of hundred people, half of which were really attractive girls with cute accents—what’s not to like?
At the time I didn’t really know anything about introverts and extroverts, but I quickly learned that there were people for whom talking with complete strangers was not only easy but effortless if not energizing as well.
And I wasn’t one of those people. So once we got the “What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your major” information out of the way, I was kind of stuck. I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say, couldn’t think of anything interesting to ask—my mind would go blank.
Sometimes I would be talking with someone like me, and then the silence would really be awkward. Most of the time it would seem that I would be with some über-extravert for whom the words just flowed like a stream. Or a river. A raging river after a record rainfall with rapids formed by ragged rocks. The onslaught of words would stun an ox. Sometimes these people would talk about nothing but themselves, and, quite frankly, they weren’t that interesting, and it always seemed to me that if you can’t say anything interesting, it’s best to say nothing at all.
But then some of these people would want to do something even worse—instead of wanting to talk about themselves, they would want to talk about…me. And I didn’t have much to say because, like I said, if you can’t say anything interesting, best not to say anything at all. And I found it hard to find much to say about me that I thought would be interesting to anyone else. It’s not so much that I thought that my own life was boring—although, there was that—but that I couldn’t find how anyone else wouldn’t be bored either.
There are times when a word is wanted or even needed. I like when that word comes, and am frustrated when it won’t, but I have never thought to make up for the right word with a plethora of other words. Quantity over quality has never made sense to me when it comes to words.
It would therefore seem that God is either a jokester or a sadist for calling me into a role that demands so many words on such a regular basis. What’s interesting is that, in surveys of pastors nationwide, the introverts outnumber the extroverts by a decent margin. Most of these men and women are probably like me, and over the years they have learned the art of conversation with new acquaintances. We’ve learned how find enough words to keep the conversation moving and engaging. We’ve learned how to increase the quantity of words.
But we’re still much more concerned with finding the right word, so when I say that I hate being wordless, I don’t mean that I am unable to find enough words to fill a twenty-five minute sermon or a 750-word bulletin article. It’s that I hate being unable to find the right word—the one that will make a difference, that will enlarge a person’s perspective, that will lighten a dark moment, bring a smile to someone’s face, help them to understand their life better, the world better, God better.
Sometimes those words come easily—I’ll be inspired by something and my fingers will fly over the keyboard. And sometimes those words are elusive and I find that there are plenty of things that I can say but nothing that I feel I must say.
I don’t want to be one of those people who say something because it’s Sunday and it’s time to speak and so they say enough to fill the allotted time slot but it doesn’t amount to the calories in a diet soda. I want to be one of those for whom it’s Sunday and they have something they must say or they’ll just up and die. So if you ever wonder how you can best pray for me, there’s where to start.