If you’ve been journeying with me through this season, you’ll know that rather than buying a convertible (wouldn’t want it to mess with my hair) or some of the other trappings that often accompany men reaching the middle years of life, I’m trying to see the crisis as an opportunity. In this opportunity, I’m making some decisions to do the following:
- Trust – Confront fear with courage.
- Invest – Make intentional time and space for my most important relationships.
- Speak – Find and use my unique voice.
- Love – Become love.
- Risk – Live without regrets.
As I’ve been talking with friends over the last few months, I’ve stated that my midlife crisis involves getting healthier and speaking my mind
Now those that know me personally may see that and either do a spit-take with your morning coffee, or laugh out loud. The thought of Larry Leland needing to speak his mind, or find and use his unique voice does bear a bit of irony. “At a loss for words,” is not a phrase that has ever been used to describe me. One of my earliest memories is being reprimanded by the nuns at my Catholic pre-school for singing too loud and purposely off-key at the age of 3. To be honest, I would be shocked if, “Please, let him keep his mouth shut,” were not a consistent prayer whispered from the heart of my wife, my friends and my work colleagues. As I have often said, I have rarely entertained a thought in my head that I haven’t spoken aloud.
However, this conviction that I need to speak isn’t about saying more (to which you may all say, Thanks be to God!). Instead, here are some things that God has been stirring in me:
- You don’t have to voice every thought or opinion you have, even when asked. This has been a steep learning curve for me. If nature abhors a vacuum, this talkative “J” on the Myers-Briggs, abhors silence when a question enters the room. In the local church, and now as a District Superintendent, I have had to learn that my voice carries a certain weight for some people and in some groups. I have been in too many meetings that, once I voiced my opinion, conversation grinds to a halt. Whether or not the incredibly gifted people around me had a different thought, discussion was moot because the Lead Pastor, or the DS had spoken. (Just to be clear, there are also times when because the DS says something is seen as license to decide in the opposite.) But sometimes, because my voice can also tend to the critical – another not-shocker for those who know me well – I have to be careful not to be the one pointing out everything that could possibly go wrong. Finally, holding a thought for a bit can sometimes allow God to reshape it in me before it comes out, and the result is usually much more honoring to God, to the people around me, and to the process.
- Sometimes, you have to say the hard thing, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it. Again, a learning curve with the trajectory to strike fear in my heart. There is a significant part of this season for me that I’ve felt called to speak some hard truths into situations. Whether it’s been the situation in which my tribe of the Church finds itself, a conviction or discernment I have regarding a pastor or church that I work with, or even in defending some of the decisions I’ve made personally, there have been numerous times when I’ve felt a conviction that I need to speak, when everything in my conflict-avoiding self wants me to muzzle it. However, the danger that I have (and maybe you struggle with this) is I jump straight over assertive conviction to downright aggressive jerkdom. The message that I’ve been hearing to “rein it in,” doesn’t mean that I don’t speak the hard thing, but that I do it with a grace that allows it to be heard.
- There is someone who needs to hear what you have to say. I’m convinced that I haven’t had a particularly original thought in my life, and God knows that my mouth has gotten me in trouble and spread way more hurt than I will ever get over in this lifetime. And yet, for purposes that only God understands, God wants me to keep on speaking in response to the Spirit’s nudging. Every time I step into a pulpit, every time a friend meets me for lunch, every time my son looks at me when I’m talking to him, every time you click on the link to read this blog, I have an opportunity to use this voice that God’s given me to speak life. Someone needs to hear that encouragement that you feel led to offer. Someone needs you to be honest enough with them to tell them the truth. Someone needs to hear “I’m sorry,” come from your lips and your heart. Someone needs to be challenged to chase a God-planted dream that terrifies them, or to take a smaller next step in following Jesus. Someone needs you to speak life into their life. Don’t miss out on that opportunity.
The apostle Paul closes what we know as I Thessalonians, beginning with chapter 5, verse 11, with words that I think speak to followers of Jesus finding their voice and using it. May they be a benediction, a sending, a commissioning for you today.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.