Tuesday, May 31, 2005

When Words Won’t Work

What We Learn When Life Leaves Us Speechless

Sometimes I wonder if words get in the way of what our heart really wants to share. Ever feel like that? You’re speechless, not for lack of something to say but because words can’t quite capture it.

I’ve seen that happen to lots of people as they try to describe their feelings about God or a struggle they’re dealing with or the reason they made the decision they made. Our feelings often surpass our ability to communicate them.

Just thinking about it takes my mind in lots of different directions. (How ironic that there’s so much to say about being speechless!) Here are some of the questions that come to mind…

I wonder if this what the Bible means when it talks about the groanings of our spirit or when it says things like “we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).

I wonder if, when the words are working for us, we tend to hold back a little bit in our effort to communicate. I mean, those moments when words fail us, we usually get all animated and start using gestures and sounds (like when “talking” to someone who doesn’t speak very much English). We put everything we’ve got into our attempt to share our message. But when the words are there, we just kind of blurt out the first phrase that comes to mind, expecting the listeners to understand it just like we meant it.

I wonder if, when we are the listener and not the speaker, we content ourselves with hearing only the words and miss the meaning. Perhaps we’re too quick to assume that if we hear their words, we’ve understood their heart.

And I wonder if there’s a way to talk and a way to listen that makes those wordless moments workable anyway. I wonder if we can train ourselves to listen to someone’s heart so well that the words kind of fade into the background and we actually hear a person instead of just some words.

Anyway, I’ve come to a conclusion from all this talk about being speechless. It’s certainly true that God has graciously given human beings the capacity for language, and we are foolish to neglect it (more about that in the next post…). But we are even more foolish to suppose that mere verbalizing equals communicating.

In our relationships with other people, I think we would do really well NOT to assume that simply saying our piece or listening to theirs means that we’ve reached an understanding. Human beings are not mere minds that think with mouths that talk. We have a body that directly encounters our world and a soul that filters and sorts and shapes and is shaped by what we experience. And sometimes those experiences go beyond what we are able to put into words.

I think God does that to us on purpose. Why? To remind us that we aren’t God, first of all. Only He has infinite capacity for Self-expression. But there’s probably another reason. Perhaps God gives us those speechless moments just so we’ll remember that real communication goes way beyond words and phrases and clauses. Real communication happens heart to heart, soul to soul, person to person. It’s beyond logic and deeper than emotion. When you experience it—when you really connect with someone—it’s… it’s…