Discounted Words

Doing my best to talk lovingly to my friends’ big white poodle, Beau, I could not hide my true feelings. I am not a great dog lover. He cocked his head, listening intently to my words and then growled and barked angrily in response. Jeff Scott Cook said, “If the eyes are the windows of the soul, the voice is the front door.” This dog had made it though the front door of my soul and glimpsed its depths.

And how about my sons and their responses to some comments I’ve made to them? I mused. My words might have been non-threatening, even loving, but the tone of my voice… Hmm.

While contemplating this, I remembered listening to an audio tape of a woman reading a book about God. She pronounced the words correctly, but the tone of her voice belied her respect, let alone conviction, for truths about the Creator. Indeed, she accented the word “Lord” with a haughty sneer. Benjamin Disraeli rightly noted, “There is no index of character as sure as the voice.”

In Jeff Scott Cook’s book, The Elements of Speechwriting and Public Speaking, he points out that the tone of voice, as well as facial expressions and body language, speak louder than words. In judging the emotional content of a speech, one psychologist pointed out, the words themselves count for only about 7% of the message. If emotional clues do not match the spoken words, he says, then the words are discounted.

Often people get their message across without a word. Elaine walks slowly, smiling occasionally at her husband, as she prepares food for her family. Being near her is, to me, to find another mother. Her very being speaks volumes, even only a few minutes after meeting her. Indeed, who we are and what we believe are seen and felt much more than heard.

Longfellow likened meeting some people to ships passing in the dark. “Only a look and a voice” and then they are gone. A couple, new to my community, came to pick up an item they were buying from me. Since we had a common background, I was looking forward to a friendly exchange. But they busied themselves getting the goods into their car, saying little, and then they were gone, leaving me with a negative impression. Later, I regretted how such a small incident could brand people, probably falsely.

The truth is, we send out messages as often as we breathe. Our voices, faces, and bodies “read” the Word of God out loud to people around us. How many times have I read His Word poorly to my family, friends, and strangers? My life can so easily discount my speech. Trying to control my voice, face, and body in my own power heaps discouragement on me. As a writer, I want the words I put on paper to match the life I live. A life of holiness and wholeness—where all the parts of me communicate one truthful message—is my goal. How to do it?

As I read God’s Word, I hear His voice—the “front door” to His essence. Listening and reflecting on His wholeness, holiness, and glory are part of worship. One author calls worship “face to face gratitude.” The more I worship Him and look into His face with a thankful heart, the more I absorb who He is into my own body, voice, and eyes. His Holy Spirit who lives in me works at purifying and bringing every part of me into line with who He is. As I yield to God’s Holy Spirit, my words will echo His voice, His face, and His being—and will not be discounted.