When you’re gifted with words, and you make your living by using them, you feel the sting of the moments when you’ve said something wrong and hurt someone, or said something right and been ignored, more than the average person.
Or is that just me?
For a long time I viewed my gift with words the way some people view their gift of singleness. I couldn’t deny I had it; I just wanted God to take it back. I was raised in a complementarian context that equated womanliness with being quiet. Being a woman with gifts that have anything to do with being heard make you feel like you live with a giant 1 Peter 3 penalty flag perpetually flapping over your head. Or like you have a genetic condition.
In my case, that’s entirely possible. Because having a strong voice, and the compulsion to use it to help people, seems to be literally codified in my DNA.
The branches of my family tree are laden with pastors, writers, published authors, and even heralds (my maiden name is Horner). I followed in my ancestors’ footsteps by earning an English degree at a Christian liberal arts college. For more than twenty years, I’ve put my gifts to work in the technology industry, helping people improve the way they communicate so they can make gazillions of dollars building the technologies on which all of the the Internet runs.
(Please choose from any of the following options: A. I’m sorry. B. You’re welcome. C. Both)
I’ve been a front row observer of the digital revolution’s transformation of the way people communicate, and have been part of the work to shape that transformation, so that people are helped more than they’re harmed by it.
Home decorating projects give me panic attacks, and the time I spend volunteering in my daughter’s fifth grade classroom is the hardest 45 minutes of my month. But I can string sentences together, and nothing makes me happier than when I learn that a collection of them has been helpful to someone.
So when my words fail me, by being unhelpful, unkind, or just plain stupid, the weight of that failure feels particularly heavy.
A while ago, my words failed me (or rather, they failed God) twice in the space of a month. So I sat under the weight of the Holy Spirit’s conviction over it in an intentional way.
There was one time in my Christian life when my conclusion would have been that my two-footed stumble was a sign I wasn’t actually gifted with words at all – that the fruit I should bear in keeping with repentance was the fruit of learning to sit down and shut up. But in my womens’ Bible Study on the Gospel of John this year, Jesus’ words in John 15 have caused me to think otherwise. I’m learning to see that God grants these moments of stumbling as a means of pruning, to make me more fruitful in my gifts, not to mention more humble in acknowledging the true Source for that fruit as it comes.
The questions I began to ask of the Holy Spirit was what shape this pruning should take. The bad fruit had been of a particular varietal – speech that was injudicious. How did God want me to produce better fruit that was the opposite? Not just me as a Christian, but me as a Christian woman?
So much of the messaging targeted at Christian women focusses on the Bible’s words about the pruning of our speech and being silent; I haven’t read nearly as much focussed on what the Bible says about when women are to speak, and when we should know we’re meant to listen.
So I’ve spent the last several months digging into that topic. I’ve studied the words of the women of the Old Testament, the women of Proverbs 7, 8 and 9, and the women who followed Jesus. I’ve studied the context for their words, and the consequences, for the women who spoke them, for the people who listened to them, and for the people who refused to listen as well.
What God has been teaching me has been startling and strengthening, convicting and emboldening.
There’s no question that the Bible contains strong warnings against certain types of womanly speech, speech that endangers the soul of anyone who heeds it. But the Bible is equally clear that there is a kind of womanly speech that brings life, and it’s every bit as dangerous to our souls when we ignore it.
As I’ve sought to replicate the patterns of speech God affirms in Scripture, and put off the ungodly ones, God has graciously produced the fruit in my life, in encouraging and unexpected ways. That fruit has come not just from speaking differently, and, yes, in saying less in certain circumstances; it’s also come from speaking differently and saying more in others.
I’m posting some of the results of that study here in the coming days. I hope it will bear fruit in your life as well, whether you’re a woman wanting to be a better steward of your words,
or you’re a woman, or a man, wanting to be a wiser listener when a woman speaks.