Simplicity of Speech: My Story
Many versions of family systems theory describe the youngest in the dysfunctional family (me, in my alcoholic family of origin) as the family clown. I wore that role well to relieve tension and then I brought it all into adulthood—not as helpful then!
When I began teaching at retreats 30 years, I brought that with me often drawing more attention to myself than was wise. God began nudging me to examine and simplify my speaking, both upfront on the platform and in simple conversation with others. First, I learned from classes in writing that with words, “less is more” and I started dialing things down. Then I watched Dallas Willard teach in many situations. I remember the sinking feeling I had the first time I heard him say, “He who tooteth his own horn, the same shall not be tooted” when talking about his uneasiness with self-promotion. He said it with such quiet power. God brought to my mind the subtle ways I tooted my own horn. I came to realize this wasn’t about balance or personality or style but about motives.
So here are the questions that began to float through my mind when preparing to teach, when introducing myself in a networking meeting, or even when enjoying simple conversation.
- Am I trying to impress anyone–that I’m clever? Or funny? Or quick-witted?
- Am I including comments just to get a laugh—even if it interrupts them? And why am I doing that? (I learned that these comments often made people shut down their authentic sharing.)
- How much will it hurt me (my ego) to not tell that story about myself and instead listen better?
- Can I let my “yes” be “yes” and my “no” be “no” without going out of my way to convince someone?
- Can I set aside the temptation to be somewhat dramatic?
- Does it feel unnatural to simplify my speech? If so, what payoff am I looking for?
- Am I thinking more about what I want to say or more about the benefit to the listener?
- Will my comment in any way highlight how good God is to me?
- Am I being merciful to my listener—getting to the point?
Slowly, I’ve wanted my life to be “hidden in Christ with God” (Colossians 3:3), even and especially when I’m speaking on a platform. Now and then, speaking engagement attendees have said to me, “Thanks for staying out of the way. I truly saw Jesus!” (But only now and then!)
Now I find myself as president/chair of the board of Dallas Willard Ministries. I’m asking Jesus for help because I truly want DWM to strike a path that is different from our personality-focused, celebrity-driven culture, in which websites abound such as the one that tells pastors how to use the 7 best stand-up comedy techniques.
So we’re having conversations among our board about how an organization named for a human person can—more than anything else—cultivate disciples of Jesus, not promote any human personality (including that of my dear friend, Dallas). Please pray for us!! And well, donate, if you’re so led.
Grace and peace,