Friday, July 5, 2019

When You Speak

Job famously has three friends. But in the book of Job, there are four men who speak to him, trying to respond to his situation.

The fourth man, the man who is not counted for whatever reason among Job's friends, is a man named Elihu. He may, in fact, be merely a boy by our own terms, for one of the first things that Elihu says is that he realizes that in the midst of present company, he is young. 

In the context of Elihu's culture, that was important. It tells us why he hasn't spoken until now; it was customary for the young to wait for the old to speak first, assuming that the old had more perspective, wisdom, and knowledge on any matter and that the young would more frequently ask questions or very rarely have anything valuable to add. 

But in the context of our culture, it's important, too. Not because it is customary to let the older speak first. Sadly, we have lost that kind of respect for our elders and their experience in our world, more often thinking our older persons to be out of touch or even unwise, not knowing the ways of today's world (which is so unlike the world they lived in, we think). No, Elihu's patience to speak reminds us of something that we often forget in our world, something we often neglect, that very thing we are most often not thinking about:

We must be mindful of the reasons why others won't hear us. 

Elihu's got some very good reasons to speak. He cites those, too. He declares that the spirit in him won't let him keep quiet, that he's convinced that he has something valuable to add. He believes that the perspective he's about to offer is new, complete, and satisfying to the situation at hand. He believes that the way that it burns inside of him practically requires him to speak it, to share it with others. Job's three friends have been close, maybe, but Elihu's about to bring it all together for them and add that one missing piece that makes it all make sense. 

Isn't that why most of us speak? We have something to say that comes from some place deep inside us, something so passionate in our souls that we know it to be true and believe it to be valuable to, well, everyone else. We jump into conversations thinking that we're going to end them, enter into disagreements believing we can settle them. We put our two cents in on controversial subjects thinking that we're going to change minds because, well, we're right. Aren't we? And isn't the whole world just waiting for someone to come along who's right about this or that and can articulate it for everyone to understand? 

Yeah, how many times has that worked out for you?

We speak because we're confident in what we have to say and how we're going to say it, but the truth is for every single one of us in every single conversation that there are some persons who aren't going to hear us. There are reasons the world won't listen. 

For Elihu, it's because he was young. He knew this, so he claimed it right out front. It's an act of humility, demonstrating that he knows his place and that he has just as clear a vision for who he is as he's about to claim for the issue at hand. 

For us, it's usually something else. Sometimes, it's because we're young. The world doesn't think we have enough experience in one area or another, so they question what we'd have to say. Sometimes, it's because we're male or female, married or single, religious or not religious, Republican or Democrat, straight or gay, Black or white, rich or poor. You name it, there is someone who has put us in their out-group and won't listen to a thing we say. Or at least, won't hear it. 

Or worse, and what happens most often, they hear what they think we're going to say instead of what we actually say because they're hearing us through the lens of what they think our particular demographic represents. 

It takes a great amount of self-awareness for us to recognize those things about us that keep others from hearing us, and it takes a greater amount of humility to be able to confess them. But as Elihu shows, it's also extremely important. Not only for us to know, for it keeps us from speaking out of turn, but for us to say, because it helps others to hear us better. 

What if we did this more often? What if, when we chose to speak, we started with a confession? I am young; I am old. I am male; I am female. I am straight; I am gay. I am Black; I am white. I know why you'll be tempted not to hear me.

But I have something to say that burns in me with a passion that I cannot ignore, and so whatever I am in your eyes, listen anyway. For I have waited my turn, and I am about to speak.

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