Making Your Voice Heard
By Audrey Stallsmith
I have a low--what I prefer to call husky--voice. I also talk fast. That can, as you may imagine, make it difficult for me to communicate with my elderly parents and patients.
My rapid-fire speech was, I suspect, originally my way of getting my point across before somebody interrupted me. And, as a shy child, I was accustomed to somebody interrupting me!
Although I'm not afflicted with as much of an inferiority complex now, I've found that habits picked up in childhood tend to persist, unless we make a conscious effort to change them. Like most introverts, I can converse fairly easily when one-on-one with another person, but have difficulty speaking up in large gatherings.
Once I really got to thinking about it, however, I realized that problem sprang as much from laziness and vanity as from modesty. "It is always the humble man who talks too much," Chesterton writes in The Man Who Was Thursday. "The proud man watches himself too closely."
In other words, when you throw an idea out on the table, you are throwing something of yourself along with it. If it comes to nothing, you are going to look an awful fool. So some of us opt for not taking that risk. The optimistic might respectfully conclude, from our watchful silence, that we must be very wise. When the truth is often that we are either dreadful cowards or "have got nothin'!"
But God didn't put us on this earth just to be observers--or to protect what little we've managed to garner. The parable about the talents makes that plain enough. “We fear men so much, because we fear God so little," G. K. Chesterton holds. "One fear cures another. When man's terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God.” Turn your thoughts, in other words, away from the carping of critics--to the much more scary anger of a King whose talents were never multiplied by the one to whom he entrusted them.
We passive types sometimes attribute our failures to "God's will" when we didn't care enough--or risk enough--to make things happen. We writers, for example, will often complain bitterly about the "trash" that gets published, when our (supposedly much better) manuscripts languish in filing cabinets.
I imagine there are pastors who also complain about everybody going to hear inferior sermons at other churches. The difference might be that the "inferior" pastors believe enough in their message to get out there and promote it. Please note that I'm not saying they believe in themselves. As Chesterton points out in Orthodoxy, "believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. . .Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness."
Child-care expert John Rosemond agrees that self esteem "is not a desirable characteristic at all. The general finding has been that people with high regard for themselves. . .tend to overestimate their abilities. As a result they don't cope well when life deals them a bad hand or their performance doesn't live up to their expectations."
On the other hand, according to Rosemond, "society is strengthened and culture is moved forward by the efforts of people who think of others before they think of themselves." So, if I write just to feed my own ego and bank account, I'm doomed to disappointment. But, if I write in a genuine attempt to help others, God can use me.
He obviously expects us to draw on what He has deposited in our checking account, after all. Not doing so implies that we have doubts about Him--about His love for us, His generosity, even His dependability.
What we need to have is the confidence of those who believe in their Father--and their family-- rather than themselves. I recently read one of Ann Rule's true crime stories about a man who supposedly murdered his wife. (Since her body was never found, the crime could never be proven.) Her children were too small at the time of her death to remember much about their loving mother. So being raised by such a father had disastrous consequences for them.
They could never trust a man who would fly into unpredictable and abusive rages when they didn't live up to his expectations. They shortly came to realize that he didn't love them, didn't--in fact--really care about anyone except himself. But, because he was such a large and powerful sort, fighting back didn't seem to be an option. With that lack of foundation in their lives, one of those children later died of a drug overdose, another had a sex change operation, etc.
Many people also see God as an unreasonable dictator, who cares for nothing but his own glory, lashes out when they disappoint him, and is much too large to fight. The frightened servant in the parable of the talents obviously considered his master to be that "hard" sort.
So only those with the faith of trusting children actually have the courage to go out and do something for God. Granted, their abilities may sometimes be like those of children as well. But the untalented who truly believe in their message will often be more effective promulgators of it than the talented.
Those of us who judge writing contests are sometimes torn between manuscripts that are cleverly written and those that exhibit a real love for their subject. When it comes down to a final choice, we'll probably opt for enthusiasm, a word which originally meant "to be possessed by God." Such stories--even if grammatically imperfect--live and breathe in a way that the others often don't.
And those who actually use their talents almost always improve or multiply them. "Practice makes perfect," while talents "buried in the earth" simply decay.
So, if we have something of value to share with the world, it's obviously our duty to speak up. No matter how much humiliation and rejection that might cost us. After all, as I've found out, a barely audible voice will simply irritate people--rather than impressing them with your meekness!
"Cringing men that bow before everybody, are truly proud men; but humble men are those who think themselves so little, they do not think it worthwhile to stoop to serve themselves," Charles Spurgeon notes. "Never ask to be a mean, cringing, fawning thing; ask God to make you a man [or woman!]. . .who only fears God, who knows no fear of any other kind."
So how do we attain that boldness? I've always identified with Moses, because I would have had the same reaction he did. If I'd been asked to go down to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, I too would have replied, "Well, you know, God, I'm not really the deliverer type. I'm more the hide-out-in- the-desert-and-keep-a-low-profile type. Who you really need is somebody like--"
God responded to Moses with a simple, "But I will be with you." He didn't contradict Moses' poor opinion of himself, or try to build up Moses' self-confidence. No, God just implied that a man's weaknesses were irrelevant, as long as that man was willing to be used by a Power much greater than himself. And Moses was so fascinated by that burning Presence, he couldn't fully turn away from what seemed an impossible demand.
"The surprising thing," Helmut Thielicke writes in The Silence of God, "is that anxiety is not opposed by fortitude, courage or heroism, as one might expect. These are simply anxiety suppressed, not conquered. The positive force which defeats anxiety is love." In other words, like Moses, we finally stop looking at our own inadequacies and start concentrating on the glory of God. If we come to love Him enough, we won't be able to stop talking--or writing or painting or making music--about Him.
False modesty is generally either self-centered or dishonest. We deprecate our talents in hopes that somebody will contradict us, or because we think it's the "Christian" thing to do. In C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, one of the demons advises another, "You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than the truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue."
False modesty also limits what we can accomplish for God, since most people take us at our own estimation. If we keep telling them that we have nothing to contribute, they will believe us--and stop asking. Or they will become so frustrated with us that they will stop asking anyway! So just sitting on what God has given us and hoping for something to happen isn't going to cut it.
In fact, when it comes right down to it, He seems to favor the risk takers over the shrinking violets. I once pointed that out in the following piece about Old Testament characters, which I titled "All or Nothing."
It's the gamblers God uses,
Those who toss all their chips into the pot on a weak hand and a hunch:
The silly old man who built an enormous boat--inland,
The aristocrat who abandoned plush living for a bloody frontier,
The deceiver with the temerity to wrestle with Deity,
The prostitute who had nothing but her soul left to sell,
The pagan girl who followed to a strange land and a stranger marriage,
The country bumpkin with a slingshot who challenged a mailed warrior,
The prince who pursued a crazy faith on hands and knees into the enemy's stronghold,
The queen who bet her life on her hedonist husband's mood,
The coward who preached hell and damnation to a city of sadists.
Play it like fools, we're told.
The things you hoard
You can never keep.