I was having dinner with some new friends recently and I had just explained what I do for a living when one young man threw out a general question. “What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a better communicator with people they are around every day?” Surprisingly, even to myself, I gave him an immediate answer. Good communication starts with what’s inside you. If you want to speak and communicate respect, it starts with what you think and feel about people. You need to actually have respect for them. Winsome and thoughtful communication begins with what you say in your heart and mind, so start listening to what you say to yourself and to those closest to you. If you don’t like what you hear, change that first.
The concept of self-talk, once discovered, can have a dramatic impact on many areas of our lives as we find that some of our self-admonishments are rooted more in childish quips or Oprah-isms, and really are not helpful. In fact, they may be stealing our joy, which is an essential ingredient to grace-filled communication. John Piper, in his book, When I Don’t Desire God: How To Fight For Joy, calls it preaching the gospel to ourselves. “Hearing the word of the cross, and preaching it to ourselves, is the central strategy for sinners in the fight for joy.”
In the New Testament, the Bereans had the great advantage of listening to the preaching of the Apostle Paul. But even then, they would go back to Scripture to see if what he said was true (Acts 17:11). How does our self-talk—or what we preach to ourselves—measure up under such an examination? Is our self-talk rooted in biblical principles? Does it contribute to our joy or erode it?
If the Bible tells us often that we are to rejoice in our affliction, then surely it is possible! William Wilberforce persevered for 60 years in the fight to see slavery come to an end in England. He was threatened and insulted and called a traitor to his own country. All this while suffering from health problems that left him nearly blind and reduced to shuffling along while leaning grotesquely to one side. But what many people don’t know is that his life was marked with joy! In 1818, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote, “Though shattered in constitution and feeble in body, he is as lively and animated as in the days of his youth. His sense of humor and delight in all that was good, was vigorous and unmistakable.”
How do you suppose such pervasive joy would affect the way Wilberforce communicated with others? Do you suppose that even his enemies might enjoy his company?
Of course, this is not a giddy joy or one that is commonly found in the world. This is simply an assurance that God is in control, even when our circumstances seem to scream that He is not. It is the understanding that we work for the approval of only One and that even when we are maligned, His opinion of us is all that matters.
It is clearly not enough to be informed and resolute communicators on public policy issues; we need to have a solid base of joy in our lives and communicate from that foundation. If we do, we will acquire an unflappable calm and a winsome manner to our speech and writing, even when the very foundations of our faith and our heritage are under attack. It’s a fight worth undertaking: the fight for joy!
Traci DeVette Griggs is Director of Communications for the North Carolina Family Policy Council and editor of Family North Carolina magazine.