Jun 4, 2015

In Good Faith: W.A.I.T -- Why Am I Talking?

In my latest monthly In Good Faith column, I share an acronym I recently heard about than encourages us to Just. Stop. Talking.

W.A.I.T -- Why Am I Talking?

I had lunch with a parishioner last week who told me about an acronym he had recently learned at a business seminar. It was W.A.I.T. — and it stood for Why Am I Talking? When you’re a preacher, this is something you’re used to people wondering. But the basic premise was a reminder to talk less and listen more.

That’s always good advice and we hear it in a variety of ways. People often quote the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus who proclaimed, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Or the Mark Twain corollary, “If we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” Which, in addition to making daily interactions a lot louder, would make us all look like Mr. Potato Head in the hands of a creative toddler. 

Many of us find ourselves in vocations or family interactions or social situations where we are expected to talk. It comes with the role of being a leader or an expert or a teacher or a parent or just a polite member of society. So one problem is that we sometimes feel the need to speak because we think it’s expected. And we find ourselves talking just for the sake of talking while drowning out other voices and perspectives from which we could learn so much more.

The whole idea of the acronym W.A.I.T. is to speak only when we actually have something to contribute. And it helps to recognize that we’re not God’s gift to the conversation — whether in the board room, at the dinner table, or on the telephone.

The other thing we often find ourselves doing in group settings is formulating what we plan to say rather than listening to others. This happens in class rooms, in Bible studies, at work, in volunteer committees. In our effort to sound eloquent and project the right image, we ignore true interaction and the conversation devolves into a bunch of individual monologues.

From a faith perspective, this whole concept of asking ourselves “why am I talking” also applies to our prayer lives. Generally speaking when we pray, we’re yappers. We talk way too much. We try to name every person we’ve ever met or every situation we can think of that needs healing. We mentally run through our world atlas, thinking hard about all the hotspots where there’s war or conflict or natural disaster. We try to remember all the tragedies we’ve heard about on the news in the last 24 hours. Or our friends on Facebook who broke legs, lost jobs, or had kids home sick from school. The list goes on and on and on with the end result being guilt when we later remember we forgot to pray for Aunt Millie’s upcoming procedure to remove that pesky toe fungus.

These are all good, prayerful thoughts, of course. But we can get so caught up in telling God what to do that we neglect the most important part of prayer, which is listening. And we forget that God already knows all our needs before we ask. 

And doesn’t that take all the pressure off? We don’t have to run down the shopping list of prayer requests, living in fear that we’ll forget to pray for peace in the Middle East or for those suffering from flooding in Texas.

So the next time you hear yourself nattering on — internally or externally — don’t forget to ask yourself “Why Am I Talking? Sometimes silence truly is golden.


Katrina said...

I think you wrote that just for me. And I do need to hear that continually. I'll stop talking now, except to say thank you.

Anonymous said...

It's so very good to be reminded that God knows even without our remembering to ask (since I forget A LOT of stuff people tell me in prayer contexts). But I've found that I really need to reel myself in over the last few years; I discovered that, sometimes, I do actually know what I'm talking about and I don't have to always worry that I'll sound obvious or stupid when saying something, which unfortunately translated into speaking way more than I should simply because I'm delighted I know what's going on. Thanks for the gentle remonstrance that just because I can speak to something doesn't mean I have to.