Have you ever really listened to the sound of your voice? I mean consciously listened the way you pronounce words and the sounds that come out? Try it right now.
Kind of jarring, isn’t it? Apart from the strange sensation of trying to think about two things at once, you quickly realize that you don’t sound quite like you may think. The words may feel clunky as they clumsily come out. Or you may hear an accent you did not expect. Or you might notice that when you really think about the way you’re talking you lose any accent entirely.
It’s a very strange sensation listening to your own voice. I imagine it’s not dissimilar from the revelation that befalls all shower and steering-wheel singers such as myself. In my car, with the steady support of my radio at near-full blast, I could swear I sound just like Josh Groban. But when I recently heard a recording of my own voice singing happy birthday on a home video I quickly realized the only thing he and I share are the same first name and last initial.
Our voices are a very powerful thing. They can be a benefit in sharing ideas or offering comfort, but they can also be a hindrance when we shout down others or inject words of pain and hatred. For millennia the only source of history or entertainment was through the power of voice. Spoken words were the ink and paper with which stories were passed from one generation to the next.
When was the last time you heard a good story? When was the last time you had time to stop and actually listen to a good story? Life in 2017 is far too busy to pause for longer than 30 seconds and read a snappy headline or listen to a context-less soundbite. In this loud and rapid-fire society we inhabit, the necessity of brevity has overruled the value of listening. I’m reminded of the story of Elijah on the mountainside in 1 Kings 19. Elijah the prophet tries to listen for God and encounters an earth-rending wind, a shattering earthquake, a hungry fire, and a whisper. The omnipotent God of the universe is not in the loud and powerful portents, but rather speaks through the “still, small voice” to the prophet.
It’s a powerful story that has been used to illustrate lots of points throughout history, but when stripped down it’s about listening. Elijah expects to hear God in the powerful things, but instead has to actually listen to hear the whisper. We are flooded with loud and glaring stimuli constantly and we try to find meaning in them. Our lives are too busy to stop and slow down to listen for the whispers through the trees or the innocent voices of children playing and laughing. Even in our close relationships, it becomes harder and harder to listen to one another because our own lives are so loud or we’re too busy talking.
Especially in the Christian life, we are too busy talking to listen. We have answers to a lot of questions and we feel obligated to spread them as far as we can. We know the place of peace and the source of love in this world and are compelled, with good reason, to share it. But how often are we so busy shouting these answers to not listen to the questions? Too many times we as Christians prefer speaking at others, whether stranger or close friend, rather than listening. Have we become the destructive winds, earthquakes, and fires for those trying to listen for God’s voice?
There are times when we are called to be God’s voice and to speak truth, wisdom, justice, and love to the world. But there are also times when we are called to simply listen. Our responsibility as the body of Christ is to be attune as to which part is needed: the ears or the mouth. In an increasingly noisy world, take a few moments and try and find that still, small voice speaking to you. In a world that is increasingly in search of answers, take some cues to listen rather than shout.