In reflecting on one of my meetings on Wednesday, I complained to my roommates that I am awkward. Actually, worse than that: painfully awkward. In the meeting, I just couldn’t seem to say anything right; it was as if I had forgotten the basic rules of social grace and professionalism. Though I am typically a semi-graceful person, or someone with whom you could just have a normal conversation, I have the not-so-occasional day where I just can’t say anything right. Yesterday was one of those days, and my stomach still turns in the fleeting moment where my mind drifts back to the appointment.
In my ongoing effort to minimize awkwardness, I try to stick by the principle of silence: namely, that if whatever I’m going to say is remotely uncomfortable, rude, or likely a perceived waste of oxygen, I don’t open my mouth. When that fails, I turn to the Bible. But I have to admit that even the Bible can intimidate me. Let’s face it: the Bible is full of eloquent people. If they weren’t effective communicators, I imagine the construction of the Bible and incredible spread of Christianity would have been quite difficult. The authors of the Bible also had the added advantages not only of divine inspiration, but also of the revision process. It’s easy to say the right thing when you have time to think about it and have the advice of an omnicient editor; on the flip side of that coin, it’s awfully hard to revise what you say once it’s been heard and you haven’t given enough thought to it.
My next strategy is to pray about thinking more before I speak. I pray about this daily, that God would take control of my words and use them to His glory. But not every conversation is one of evangelism. Isn’t there something in the Bible that would give me advice on how to be a good everyday communicator, or at least give me an example to follow? Does God ask that we be eloquent? Is there anyone in the Bible that, like me, had the occasional bad communication day?
Paul offers some comfort in the verses of 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 2, he begins with saying that he was not the most eloquent of speakers on his last visit:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I was resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
It’s unbelievable to me that the first time that Paul begins talking about his visit to Corinth at any particular length, or discussing specific events of his visit, he begins by pointing to himself and essentially apologizing for his lack of public speaking skills. So, is Paul admitting to awkwardness? He says he was shaking when he was delivering the Gospel to the people of Corinth, that his words were not wise and persuasive. I can picture the dry mouth, the quaking knees, and knotted stomach that he might have experienced while giving this speech. I imagine that whatever speech he gave was not a wholly comfortable one to watch if he’s still talking about it in a letter that would have been received long after the incident, and is still admitting to being nervous and perhaps not the best of public speakers. Talk about awkward.
But God did not require eloquence, or even basic public speaking skills if I’m reading this verse correctly; though some people are certainly gifted with an exceptional ability to relate and speak to people, it does not appear, at least from this excerpt, that Paul was one of them.
I admit that it makes me feel better that Paul had a bad public speaking day. I can’t imagine there’s any feeling that’s worse than worrying about whether your delivery hampered someone’s understanding of the most revolutionary message in human history. But God still manages to speak through him. Despite Paul’s deficiencies, the basic message got across: Jesus, the son of God, lived, was crucified, and rose from the dead, and in doing so has paid for our sins.
So while I am still encouraged to cultivate better interpersonal skills and continue working towards that elusive goal of no longer being awkward (I have a Post-It with Proverbs 12:23 written on it stuck on the bookshelf next to my desk), I’m glad that my deficiency is no obstacle for God. I know it’s an obvious thing for Christians that God knows no bounds, especially not the ones we create for ourselves, but it’s easy to forget that when you walk away from a conversation and wish you could take most of it back, rephrase, and come back with a more comfortable, eloquent revision.
I take comfort in the fact that I’m not hampering God’s mission. In the meantime, the never-ending quest for wisdom and discernment continues.