Lessons I Learned When I Couldn’t Speak For a Week!

April 11th, 2017

My voice has been weak, rough and losing range for about a year now. So, finally (it is a bad habit of mine to wait) I got a reference from my primary doc for an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialist. They found a cyst on a vocal cord, surgery scheduled, surgery completed and healing time of vocal rest all but completed.

As I write, I have one more day of total vocal rest. But who’s counting?  I am.

What an experience it has been for a communicator to go a week without vocal communication. Interesting to say the least. I have learned a lot about myself, others and a few things about youth ministry along the way.

1. My facial expressions have the ability to communicate powerful and often unintended messages.

Fact: my writing is horrible. On one occasion, I noticed my wife was getting frustrated as I attempted to write a message (that I perceived as being clear) on the dry erase tablet with matching pen she gave me on day one of my voice restriction. I mean, she was clearly frustrated. I then wrote, clearly, “why are you so frustrated?” I have always known the power of non-verbal communication, but I had always had a voice to soften those in my personal delivery. Without a voice, no softening occurred.

What followed was a time of great reflection and revelation. She began to explain to me that when I am not understood, my facial expressions communicate annoyance, anger, disappointment and an air of sarcastic why-are-you-not-getting-this-I-am-so-brilliant-ism (I just made that last -ism up, but it fits). Ouch! Honestly, I felt none of the things she felt when I was writing. Still, that is what was communicated by my facial expressions. There are a lot of applications I made for my marriage and parenting. There are also a lot of applications to make for youth ministry.

How often have I tried to communicate something to a team of adult volunteers and ended up communicating annoyance when they didn’t understand what I was trying to say?

How often have I tried to settle and lead a group of teenagers and ended up communicating an unintended level of anger and disappointment to the students who needed to know that I love and accept them?

How often have I left a staff or group of youth ministry peers feeling that sarcastic why-are-you-not-getting-this-I-am-brilliant-ism sting when I am not understood?

This experience has reminded me to consider my facial expressions more seriously.

2. There is more peace in my family and around me when I talk less and listen more.

Fact: I am a talker. That is why my voice restriction week was so entertaining to myself, my wife, family, friends…and…well… everybody who knows me very well. It was a solid entertainment choice to come over for a visit, watch a movie, go out to eat, go to worship or interact with me while not being able to speak-entertaining. I love to visit with and interact with all kinds of people. It is one of the greatest parts of my personality. However, like most positives, there are negatives that accompany this “talker.”

If I am not careful, I answer questions too quickly and misunderstand what is being asked.

If I am not careful, I jump to lecture mode instead of listening deeply and patiently to others.

If I am not careful, I miss the greatness of stories other people are wanting to share.

If I am not careful, my rush to provide an answer to someone’s hurt may prevent them from sharing their real pain.

Without my voice, when listening was my primary sense, peace followed. Since I was texting or writing (on my great dry erase tablet with matching pen) my words were calculated and to the point. There was little room or time for unneeded rhetoric. Again, tremendous application for marriage and parenting. And youth ministry.

How often have I derailed a great group processing because I had to jump to the conclusion (don’t laugh Chap Clark. He has been trying to teach me this since graduate school)?

How often do I jump into lecture instead of listening?

How often do I leave a meeting with a friend wondering if they had something else to say but just didn’t have the opening?

How often do I work with a student or adult and wonder if the information I gave them was what they actually came to my office to receive?

I will love getting back to “talking” David mode. However, I will be listening more and holding on to the peace that discipline creates in our chaotic world.

3. The conversations I needed to be involved with found me.

Fact: I am motivated by collaboration. I don’t desire to be the center of attention or proven right on every subject. I simply like to be part of strategic conversations and share insights and opinions that push a topic or organization into the future. I love the process.

Again, collaboration can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that I most often play well with and honor the opinions of other people. The curse, if not allowed to play, I have the ability to create unwarranted tension for my peers and supervising leaders. Even while I was unable to speak, the significant conversations I needed to be involved with found me. My opinions were sought out and honored as they were patiently given via text, email or writing (on that awesome gift my wife gave me).

I really do not need to offer an opinion on every conversation in my wife’s, kids’, friends’ or co-workers’ life. I am not suggesting you become a non-proactive spouse, parent, coworker and leader. What I am suggesting is that you learn to prioritize the conversations that are in your direct sphere of influence and let the other matters, that might need your opinion, find you.

When “talking” David returns, I will focus more on my facial expressions, listening skills and conversations.

Well, according to my count, I have 8 hours of vocal restriction left.

But who’s counting? I am.

David Fraze is Special Assistant to the President of LUBBOCK CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY and Manager of DFW Character Coaches for FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIAN ATHLETES. Based out of North Richland Hills, Texas, David has been a student minister for over 25 years. David is a popular speaker at Youth Events, Public/Private School Events, Ministry Trainings and Seminars. David is a writer who has contributed articles for the YS Blog, ENGAGE, the quarterly journal of The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, Youth Worker Journal, Journal of Student Ministries, and the Fuller Youth Institute. David serves as a Ministry Coach for YOUTH SPECIALTIES, speaker for STICKY FAITH, and serves as Character Coach for Richland High School Football and Athletics. He has been married to Lisa for 25 years. They have two children, Braeden and Shelbee.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.