“So…you’re a preacher and you can’t talk? What are you going to do – WRITE?!”
The abrupt question from the guest speaker cut deep. Only six months earlier while preaching a Christmas Eve service at the church I pastored in the Boston area, my voice had suddenly gone out – right in the middle of my message. I had experienced laryngitis before – but this felt different. It was as if someone had suddenly unplugged my voice box. Suddenly, just talking felt like a wrestling match. I knew something was wrong.
Not knowing what had hit me, I hurriedly tried to finish the sermon. After closing the service in prayer, I went to my regular post in the foyer of the church to talk (or try to talk) with people as they left.
“Pastor, take care of that voice.”
“Give the voice a rest for a while, Pastor.”
“You had better see the doctor about that ‘cold’.”
Thinking it was just that – a cold – I rested the voice for a few days figuring it would return. It didn’t. So, I went to the doctor who could not tell for sure, but thought that it must be a virus. It wasn’t. The uncertainty was almost as frustrating as trying to carry on a conversation.
After that, I was sent from a general practitioner to a laryngologist to a neurologist and finally (a couple of months later) to a speech therapist. No one seemed to know what it was.
For six months, talking was extremely difficult. Simple one-on-one discussions were a chore. Mostly, trying to make sense of it all was putting a strain on my spirit, my marriage and my family. The scariest part was that if felt like I had lost something I assumed I would always have – a strong, clear and resonant voice.
The most challenging part was my questions: “God, why is this going on? Why don’t you just heal me? You called me to preach and now I am having a hard time just talking; what is the deal with that?”
Losing Something Valuable
Losses come in all depths and dimensions. People every day lose loved ones, lose their jobs, and lose their houses. But, perhaps the most difficult losses are the ones we never would have expected.
Few people in the Bible lost more than Joseph. He was one prolific loser. His adolescent years were full of bright dreams, great favor and remarkable potential (Gen. 37). He had it all. However, he would soon experience losses that would far exceed merely having to part with a multi-colored coat. Before finally ascending to the role of second in command over all of Egypt, Joseph’s journey looked like a non-stop downward spiral. Just consider some of his losses:
He lost his family’s support.
Joseph’s brothers so envied him and the favor he had with his father, they decided to get rid of him. Although murder was their original idea, he was instead tossed into a pit and sold as a slave.
He lost his job — more than once.
When Joseph entered the workforce as a shepherd, his brothers pulled him off the job. Job #2 was as a slave – but, he lost that one too. He couldn’t even keep a job as a slave!
He lost his clear view of his father.
No matter what happened to Joseph in his younger years, at least his father had always been in close view. Suddenly, all that changed. His father was right where he had always been, only now far out of sight. Sometimes God can seem that way to us – distant, removed, even disinterested.
What Others May Find When You Lose
Joseph felt the strains and stresses of a dysfunctional home, problems at work, and a distant father. He was tested to the core.
When I lost my voice for a year, it was difficult to believe that anything good would ever come of it. After twelve years of preaching, teaching, and singing – I was struggling to do the thing I enjoyed most – communicate. The experience was often deeply frustrating and embarrassing. So, I did what I could do … I wrote. In fact, I wrote so much that within a few months I had penned three book manuscripts, one of them on great questions and the role they play in effective parenting.
The more I wrote, the more I felt the desire to see these materials published and read. But, that seemed somehow out of reach. Soon, however, I felt compelled to knock on a door or two. I asked my wife if she thought it would be worth sending the ideas to Focus on the
Family. “Why not?,” she said. “The worst they can say is ‘no’.”
After several weeks with no response, I was ready to give up. Just about that time, I got a call from an editor at Focus. “We’ve decided that we don’t want to do a book with you, Bob. We actually want to do two books with you. How would you feel about that?”
Something in me exploded in that moment. I think you call it joy. God had just opened a new and exciting door at one of the lowest seasons in my life.
Personal Losses – Kingdom Gains
Let’s face it. Everyone “loses” at one time or another; some just don’t want to admit it. But, beyond the pain and disappointment, losing can uniquely do something for you. It can create an empty place in your life for God to fill with something new. God required Joseph to “lose” (or surrender) so much: his family, his time, his reputation, his freedom, his finances, and his work. But, afterwards Joseph was destined to experience gains he never could have imagined, Kingdom gains. The losses took him as low as a pit; the gains, as high as a palace. But through the losses, he not only found God – he found his destiny in God. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matt. 16:24).”
Eventually, after a few long months, the issue with my voice was diagnosed as a rare condition called spasmodic dysphonia. The only treatment known at that time was an injection directly into the vocal chords, and this improvement would only be temporary. On one hand, exciting doors were beginning to open, but the challenge of my voice was not yet over.
Joseph faced some deeply discouraging moments, months and years. One can only imagine his desperate thoughts during the hours and months he spent in that pit, as a slave, and in prison. But ultimately, Joseph’s “losses” accomplished incredible things. Eventually, God drew Joseph out of the pit, enslavement, and prison and elevated him to a remarkable role of influence. He became second in command to Pharaoh. Joseph’s journey inspires me to believe that through my struggles and yours:
God’s purpose is served in unimaginable ways.
As God would later use Moses to deliver the people of Israel out of Egypt, he first used Joseph to bring them in. It became a place of safe keeping during a great famine. In similar ways, God is at work in our struggles accomplishing more than we can now see. Also, we find in our losses…
God’s grace is experienced in extraordinary moments.
Perhaps the most poignant one was when Joseph faced his brothers after their betrayal. Working through the grief and through many tears, he chose to forgive his betrayers, saying: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20).” When you and I have been hurt by others, hard-to-heal wounds find release in God-ordained moments of truth and forgiveness. Finally, we also discover that in loss…
God’s glory is seen in unexpected places.
Up close, Joseph’s life appeared to be riddled with difficulties and hardships; but, from a wide-angle view, its clear God was using those very challenges to move Joseph away from the comforts of his father’s estate and into an unbelievable opportunity of broader influence. Just as something in our lives seems reduced, God is often enlarging something else for his glory.
Now We’re Talking!
When I heard the visiting guest speaker ask me, “So … you’re a preacher and you can’t talk. What are you going to do, … WRITE?” – little did I know the words that seemed so abrupt would prove to be so profound. You see, while I was struggling with my personal voice, God was opening a new “voice” to people around the nation and the world. And, while I was having a hard time talking – I was asked to write two books entitled (at the publisher’s request) “Now We’re Talking!” How ironic. It is true after all: If we’re patient and believe, our personal “losses” can be turned into Kingdom gains! These books are now under a different title, Conversation Starters, and have been in print for 15 years.
Paul said it best: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ …” (Phil. 3:8 NIV). In other words, gaining Christ often involves losing other things in our lives.
God has been gracious to me. Doors to write have continued to open and the voice has gotten stronger. Although not completely recovered, it is much improved. To this day there remains a residue of brokenness in the tone; not enough to keep me from teaching and preaching – I do lots of that – but enough to keep me telling this story and to remind me of how much I gained the year something in my life was taken away.