In which I learn the art of shutting my mouth

I have nothing to say
and I’m saying it
and that is poetry
as I need it
– John Cage

Do you use filler words? You know, the words that you say to fill the gaps in conversation or the blank places as your brain connects your last thought with your next? Words like:

“Um…”
“Uh…”
“You know…” (I’ve already used this one once in this post)
“Actually…”
“Like…”

They are the words that fall out of our mouths involuntarily to break the silence. We all do it in the course of normal conversation, so it’s usually not a big deal. But one of the first things you are taught about public speaking is: cut out the filler words.

Because they add nothing to the conversation. They convey no thought or idea. And too many of these words can detract from your overall message.

I feel like I’m surrounded by these words – meaningless sounds that simply fill blank spaces. And this isn’t just because I watched part of the Presidential Debate last night.

Maybe we have too many avenues of communication – Facebook statuses and Twitter feeds and blog posts and text messages and Sunday sermons and phone conversations and message boards and…

Words, words, words, words – a proliferation of words. But how many of them are truly meaningful? How many of them make a difference?

I’d really like to sit here and talk about this on a larger scale. To talk about our society or technology or our political system or our churches. To discuss how we are becoming less and less comfortable with silence in our lives. To explore the implication of over-communication in our world.

But that wouldn’t be honest. That’s not what’s bothering me.

What’s haunting me is that I feel like all of my words lately are no more than filler words.

This happens every so often. Could be because I’m going through a dry spell and have nothing important to say. Or I’m too emotional to articulate what I’m feeling. Or I have good things to say, but no one really wants to hear them. But recently it feels like my words simply fill up the dead air.

This worries me because I talk for a living. During the average week I speak or teach at least 7 times in some capacity. That’s a ton of words every week. So many of the words I’m surrounded by are my own.

Why do I feel like my best contributions come from saying something?

Surely my words matter, but I am so much more than that. And Trevor reminded me yesterday that even more than my words I matter. My presence – my being present – matters even more than the words that I say.

So today I’m trying to learn the art of shutting my mouth. And maybe, just maybe, the message I communicate will be more powerful without the filler words.

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is, it’s ok
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what you would say.

Word of God speak
Would you fall down like rain
Washing my eyes to see your majesty
To be still and know that you’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest in your holiness
Word of God speak

Mercy Me, “Word of God Speak”

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6 thoughts on “In which I learn the art of shutting my mouth

  1. I hope you will pardon me for posting more song lyrics. Your post reminded me of Andrew Peterson”s “Nothing to Say”

    And I don’t believe that I believed
    In You as deeply as today
    I reckon what I’m saying is
    There’s nothing more
    Nothing more to say

    And the mountains sing Your glory hallelujah
    The canyons echo sweet amazing grace
    My spirit sails
    The mighty gales are bellowing
    Your name
    And I’ve got nothing to say
    No, I’ve got nothing to say

    Glory, glory hallelujah
    Glory, glory hallelujah
    Glory, glory hallelujah, hallelujah

    • Love that song! Thanks for sharing. It’s amazing as I look back on the most significant moments in my life – the memories that I carry around that seem important – none of them are because of something I said. Most often they were impactful because I was present and able to see the beauty and joy of that moment.

      Interesting.

  2. As your daughter has brought to her Nana’s attention, my filler words are “and all, so . . .” I agree with “just being there” as being very important, possibly the most important thing one can do. I often try to fill my time with my grandchildren with activities of one kind or another when what they really appreciate is sitting with Nana and sharing their day. May we all learn to be quiet and listen more, appreciating just being.

    • And my guess is that if I quit trying to say something to fill the void that when I do speak, my words will be more meaningful, impactful and interesting.

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