Something to Say
Fear is something that grips people every day and renders many immobile or limited in their activity. In fact, if I were afraid of the conventional top ten in my present position as bishop, I would be in a world of hurt. Among the top 10 phobias are fear of heights, crowds, public speaking, closed in spaces, being around sick people/or getting sick and being in places with no escape. I spend much of my time over 35,000 feet in the air; speak to crowds regularly; find myself in subways, airplanes and tiny elevators; get often caught in suffocating traffic jams in some of the most crowded cities in the world; and, lay hands on sick people with any number of illnesses- contagious and non-contagious- as well as spend much time in countries notorious for waterborne and mosquito-carried illness. Come to think of it, I do not fear any of that stuff. I know that I must have a fear or two in life somewhere. I can’t think of any at the moment, aside from my fear that I might sometime discover a latent fear.
One fear that is conspicuous everywhere I go is the fear of public speaking. It is not something limited to a single culture or unique to class, race, ethnicity or gender. One site notes it is the 4th most prevalent fear in the world- higher than it rates in attention-starved America. In fact, I recently asked a wonderful, mature, Christian woman who speaks Mandarin fluently to translate for our Taiwan Superintendent at an upcoming event. She gladly agreed, saying that she was thrilled to be able to serve in that way and enjoyed translating, using her mother tongue. Then, I apparently dropped a hammer that I didn’t realize was a hammer. I said, “he will be sharing a devotional with about 20 church leaders and spouses.” She instantly declined, saying, “I can’t translate to a group of people. I thought this was a casual, one-on-one request.” It didn’t matter how much I tried to soften the blow. She was not buying.
Whether or not a person has a fear of public speaking, there is something that is at least awkward for millions more who may not even have the fear of public speaking. It is the feeling of “having nothing to say.” I talk to people all of the time about sharing their story. A common reply is “I really don’t have anything to say.” Or, “my story is not interesting.” There are people who will chat your ear off in one-to-one conversation who chafe at going to a party or public gathering out of concern that they will have to chitchat, finding it somewhere between awkward and very uncomfortable, grasping for things to say.
One of the best antidotes for having nothing to say is to have something to say. Or better put, when we live in such a way that good things are in our hearts and minds- when our lives are full- much of that will spill out quite naturally. The end result is diminished angst and awkwardness. I find that vibrant prayer, reading, observing, helping others in need, deep and intentional thinking, active engagement in matters of importance and relational investment work well toward removing the “I have nothing to say” frustration. This will help the person who feels that they have nothing to say. It will also help the person who thinks they have much to say, but no one is interested in listening.
Live a full life and just let the Spirit of God move you to share what you are learning and what you see and what others are experiencing. You will find the awkwardness is greatly diminished and you will be the life of the dreaded party.