These past two weeks I have been battling bronchitis.
One morning when I was very sick I woke up with no voice. I had but a whisper to talk, and that too was strained. The morning routine with our 13 year old and 11 year old is an intense schedule. They each have to move through showers, breakfast, backpacks, packed lunches, and chores all in the space of 1 hour. The last 10 minutes are especially rushed with me yelling, “don’t forget your lunch!” and “hurry up you’ll miss the bus!” or “practice piano before breakfast.” Suddenly with no voice and no energy the “mom voice” did not exist and my children were on their own. Fortunately they made it to school on time with all their stuff in tow.
The urgency of needing my voice back was compounded by the fact I had to teach a class on the book of Nehemiah that evening. I was trying to imagine teaching the class without talking much. It wasn’t going to work. I realized that without my voice, I had no profession. No voice meant no ministry.
For a brief moment I realized how dependent I was on my voice. Without a voice pastors cannot provide counseling, we cannot teach, we certainly cannot preach. Our work is based on the art of communication and building relationships.
Fortunately, my friend Swati came by and took me to the clinic where they gave me a breathing treatment and diagnosed me with bronchitis. Within 5 minutes my voice returned. I had thought that my voice was gone, but what was actually gone was my breath.
In Hebrew the word for “breath” ruah is the same word for “Spirit” (to learn more click here). It is the Spirit of God who dwells within us that is found within our own breath. We breathe in the breath of life and the Spirit of our Creator with each breath. When our breath leaves us at the time of death, then we say that our Spirit is gone. While I still could breathe, I had not the strength to speak. My voice was weak because the breath flowing through me was not strong enough to speak. My air pathways were constricted—too tight for the ruah to flow. Thus, my spiritual power as I understood it was certainly weakened.
What about those who have no voice?
This made we think about the weak and about those who have no voice and no one to speak on their behalf. It is so important for us to remember those who have no voice—to speak for the speechless, the powerless, and the oppressed. As parents of infants, you work tirelessly to care for and understand those who have no voice. Even our pets have no voice. I care for a dog, two cats, and now we have 4 tropical fish in our home. Our pets give us so much and ask for so little in return. We have to become attuned to their needs and learn to provide for them, without that work they will not survive. Similarly, as ministers in the mission field, our work is to become both a minister to the people’s needs but more importantly an advocate for their life to your congregation back home. To those who work in the prisons, the same applies—helping others to find their voice is part of what we are called to do. This is part of the reason why Kairos and Kairos Outside exist to help those in prison and those who love them regain their voice.
Two famous scriptures come to mind as I think about voices lost and found…
And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a child.’
But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a child”; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.’
How constrained are you in your own life?
Bronchitis constrained my voice and my work. How constrained are you in your own life? Where is your own voice shut out of the conversation? Whom are we not willing to listen to because they do not have the power or permission to speak? Jeremiah and Isaiah both felt they had no voice—that they could not speak. Jeremiah felt he did not have the experience and Isaiah had too many experiences that corrupted him. So often we worry like Jeremiah and Isaiah that we do not have what it takes to do God’s work, to help those who have no voice. In both of these stories, God provides the words and God takes away our frailty. We must not only learn to speak, but grant permission to others in our live to speak as well.
Communicating in relationships is not easy
In our marriage, like many relationships, communication is not always the easiest thing to do. He is from India and I am from Ohio. His culture has strict rules about duty, respecting elders, and avoiding conflict. I am an outspoken woman living into my Christian calling that “in Christ there is no east or west, no Jew or Greek, no man or woman.” I believe in truth and equality and honesty. You can imagine how interesting our arguments can be. To help us give each other a voice, in our work with Couples Coaching Couples we created a declaration around how to communicate respectfully with one another…
“We are free to communicate, to listen and to be heard.”
In this way, when we are feeling constrained in our relationship and that we are not being heard, we can stop, say this declaration and remember how important it is to give one another a voice in the conversation.
JFK got it right, I think, when he said, “Think not what your country can do for you. Think what you can do for your country.” I believe we spend too much time thinking about what our nation will do for us, or what our church or synagogue or temple will give to us. We as a culture of people are too often looking to be served and taken care of—rather than seeking to serve or care for others. If you spend your life serving others, then this does not apply…but many of us walk around thinking we are entitled to something and need to be heard. We believe free speech means we are entitled to say whatever we want. But our voices can be used to make a difference, rather than to get our way. Maybe what we are entitled to is to take our voice, our power, and our resources and use it to make a difference for those who have no voice, power, or resources.
A few days of weakness have made me grateful for the voice that God gave me. I am thankful for the nurses and respiratory therapists who give breathing treatments to people all around the world. I am mindful of those whose voice will not return as quickly as mine and how I might be used to make a difference in the lives of others. Today I am mindful of how I can invite others to speak and spend time listening to their voice in the matter of their life.
Where in your life are there people who have no voice?
Whoever you are, whatever your work is today, I invite you to think about the voiceless of our society and reach out in some way to make their voices heard.
May God use your voice to make a difference.