Wednesday, September 28, 2016

When Your Words Distract

Walking into a noisy classroom, the teacher slapped her hand on the desk and ordered sharply, “I demand pandemonium!” The class quieted down immediately. “It isn’t what you demand,” she later explained, “but the way you demand it.”

It isn’t always what you say, but the way you say it. Try saying, “I love you,” with a scowl.

When I write, I try to be careful about the words I use. But most of the time, great communication isn’t about choosing great words. One marriage counselor sometimes asks couples who have difficulty communicating to forget words altogether and take 20 minutes to simply look into each other’s face and be silent together. They may see what they have missed: hurting eyes, longing hearts, unfulfilled dreams, unmet needs, or a yearning to love and be loved. They learn that deep communication, which may be the most effective kind of communication, is more than words. We communicate through our eyes, our expressions, our attentiveness, our gestures, our body language and most important of all -- our actions.

An international tourist came upon a group of people listening to an orator in the central square of a small European town. The speaker shouted from a makeshift podium. At one point, his arms waved about wildly, his stern face turned red and the veins in his neck bulged and throbbed.

Since he could not speak the language, the now curious tourist asked a man next to him what the speaker was ranting about. The man pointed to a church spire in the distance and said, “See that church steeple? The fellow who is speaking in the square is the pastor of that church. Right now he is preaching about the love of God.”

By watching him, who would know? And I wonder what kind of sermon he’d preach if he chose not to use any words at all. I suspect he may communicate something quite different...but might it possibly even be closer to the heart of God? Perhaps that beloved 12th-13th Century friar Francis of Assisi got it right. It’s said he once instructed his brother friars to go into the village and preach about the love of God to everyone they encountered. Then he added, “Use words if necessary.”

As I endeavor to share what’s in my heart, I try never to forget Francis’ instructions: use words if necessary. But what do you do when your words seem a distraction to what you really want to say? Can you say it anyway? Try it -- with no words at all. Something beautiful just might happen.

-- Steve Goodier

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