My daughter has had laryngitis this week. If you haven’t met her, she is 14 and LOVES to talk. A lot. It’s been torture for her; that is, until she discovered an APP that would make her phone speak for her. She would type (which she can do about as fast as she can speak) and then hit a button and it would do the talking. We had fun discovering how it would describe various emojis. I’ll admit that I was curious about the newest emoji that one might describe as “giving someone the bird”. When she typed it, It would say “reversed hand with medium light skin tone with middle finger extended”. We giggled and giggled (I know that you are wishing you could instill such significant life lessons in your children as well. It’s a gift…).
Not being able to speak is challenging. And frustrating. I wish I could have figured out how to use that APP when I was recovering from my week in ICU. I had been intubated for several days and was very weak, so speaking was impossible. I had to write down anything I wanted to say, which took enormous effort as well. I had sort of forgotten about this inability to speak until I was listening to a message at church a couple weeks ago about a man named Zechariah. Actually, it was Jesus uncle and when an angel appeared to him to tell him that his wife was going to have a baby (which would be Jesus’ cousin, “John the Baptist”, in case you haven’t made the connection yet) even though she was, like, old…He doubted. He questioned God. So what happened to him? He was struck dumb, naturally! It’s one thing to not be able to speak, but it’ super frustrating when you weren’t born that way. When you have been talking and communicating audibly your whole life, and then are unable to speak when you have something really important, or even not so important to say, it’s infuriating. Take it from me, and probably from Zechariah-it’s no good. And like me, Zech had to write things down in order to communicate. In the end, right after their baby did indeed grow in his wife’s belly and come in to the world from her aged-womb, people were arguing over what to call him. The angel had told them to name him John. It was unheard of in those days to be named anything other than a name reflecting who his father was. But after being mute for 9 months, Zechariah wasn’t about to test God again. He grabbed a paper and pen and wrote in big letters with lots of exclamation points (I assume) “HIS NAME IS JOHN!!!!”. And immediately he could speak again. The story of the birth of John isn’t as widely known or told as the the birth of Jesus. So as I sat in church listening to this portion of the pre-Christmas story, for the first time, I actually felt a kinship with Zechariah. This was the first time I had heard this story where I could literally relate to how bad it stinks to be unable to talk!
Now, I know that the lessons Zechariah was supposed to learn are not outlined in scripture. So, let me just share with you a couple lessons I learned while I couldn’t speak. Maybe he learned them too. One lesson is pretty obvious; when you can’t speak, you have to listen. I listened to sounds and conversations around me that I would have never payed attention to otherwise. But most importantly, I listened to God. I guess because I believe He knows my every thought, I didn’t feel so lonely in my silence. I didn’t have to write things down to communicate my needs or fears or suffering to Him. Even when I was able to talk, I spent hours alone during the five 6-day stays in the hospital. I didn’t talk much. As a result, I felt an intimacy with God that is hard to duplicate in my current, noisy world. The other thing I learned-that I am pretty sure Zechariah learned as well-is that God’s power is tremendously demonstrated when he gives voice to the mute. My silence only lasted a week. Zechariah was writing notes and using hand gestures for nine months! A week was plenty of time to have an appreciation for silence embedded in my Being (though not entirely long enough according some of my family members). But when I could speak, and in my case, breathe on my own and eventually walk and kick cancer-God definitley got the credit. The glory. The gratitude. Though none of us can really duplicate either of these scenarios, I encourage you to do what you can to spend some time in silence. Send some time expressing yourself to a God who hears your every thought. Speak to him from the stillness and quietness of your grateful or hurting or broken heart. Even if it’s a few minutes a day. There is something profound to be said for “saying” nothing at all.