If you grew up anything like I did, you probably listened to at least one youth or teen challenge about the power of words. Your youth leader, or Sunday school teacher, or camp speaker probably produced a tube of toothpaste or a bottle of shaving cream, squeezed out some of the contents, and called your attention to the fact that there was no way to get those contents back into the container. And you probably rolled your eyes, because who hasn’t squeezed out too much toothpaste at some point, am I right? And also because by senior high, you knew exactly where this was going. Yes, yes, choose your words carefully because you can’t take them back. Got it already.
What I don’t remember? I don’t remember hearing anyone talk about the fact that knowledge works the same way–when you find out something that you don’t want to know, you can’t suddenly un-know it. Or that knowing the irrevocability of the spoken word can make it about 1,000 times harder to say something you need to say.
I have a B.A. in communication, and I’m halfway through an M.A. in communication studies. I start work as an English teaching assistant in about a week and a half. I know a lot about language, words, and meaning. I know even more about human communication and quite a bit about the psychology behind human communication. I spend a huge portion of my time studying and analyzing all of these things.
Confession: despite all of that knowledge, I struggle with personal relationships.
I know how to iron out conflicts between others. I know how to analyze the workings of an entire organization and create a plan to improve communication within the organization as well as communication to those outside said organization. I know how to develop change strategies and successfully implement them. I know how to network. I know how to interview and be interviewed. I know how to “sell myself” the way that Forbes and Harvard Business Review are always going on about.
I still struggle with personal relationships.
Remember Moses’ reaction when God told him to go speak to Pharaoh?
But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” -Ex. 4:10
I’ve heard a couple of different takes on this. Some seem to think that Moses had a speech impediment of some kind. Others say that given his position growing up in Pharaoh’s household, he would’ve had the best training in speech, articulation, and rhetoric–meaning he felt awkward in spite of his training and just wasn’t all that excited to appear before Pharaoh.
Now, I’m no Bible scholar, really. I definitely don’t know anything about the Hebrew language. And I don’t know much of anything about Egyptian history or culture. So I could be totally off base here… but the notion that Moses had actually received plenty of speech training is one that seems to make sense. And my reaction to that? #relatable!
I know exactly what it is like to have all that training and still feel like an awkward human all the time.
Just because I have all that training doesn’t mean I would want to go before the president of the United States and demand something in the name of religious liberty.
Just because I have all that training doesn’t mean I’m fantastic at smoothing out problems with family.
Just because I have all that training doesn’t mean I’m good at making new friends.
Just because I have all that training doesn’t mean I’m always careful enough about what I say. Sometimes words slip out and I can’t take them back.
Just because I have all that training doesn’t mean I always say things when I should. Words like: “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “I believe in you,” or “I miss you”… sometimes those words need to be said, but they catch in my throat and never come out.
And just like that tired toothpaste object lesson, I can’t take words back. And I can’t un-know things. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we could? Trust me, it’s only Tuesday, and I already need a rewind button for this week.
I’ve come to a situation where I don’t know what to do or say. Whether to offer help or take a step back. But I know that God promised to be with Moses. I know that God has promised to be with me. And I know that all the speech and psychology training in the world can’t compare with God’s wisdom.