Must you be perfect before you can speak?
Does anybody else feel this?
You learn something that helps you grow, you read something that you know would help others, but when you want to share it, you’re stopped by your internal critic.
‘There’s a chance you’re not quite correct, you need to nuance, nuance, nuance so you’re not misunderstood’.
That voice is pedantic, analytical and when given a lot of attention, stifles creativity and freedom.
It ultimately silences.
Truth isn’t spoken. Experiences aren’t shared. I was at the FEUER conference (Fellowship of Evangelists in the Universities of Europe) recently, where we listened to imperfect people who have been speaking publicly for years.
One such speaker was Irishman John Lennox, Maths Professor from Oxford university. He told us the story (and you can read some of it his his book, ‘Have no Fear’ that we gave away on our social media recently,) of when he was a student at a college function with a Nobel Prize winner. Lennox had become a Christian and was fuelled intellectually by the lectures of C.S Lewis and others. He asked the Nobel Prize winner how science had shaped his worldview, if it had led him to belief in God. The Nobel Prize winner wasn’t happy with the question, and brought Lennox to his rooms after the function with some senior academics. He told Lennox straight out that he must give up his childish faith or it would ruin his academic career.
Thankfully Lennox was convinced of the foundations of his worldview, and responded by asking if the academics could provide a better one!Lennox is an academic, and his career clearly hasn’t been ruined by his worldview, but what about the rest of us? Is it possible to speak confidently, while being aware of our limitations?
At that same FEUER conference, there was an extra day specifically dedicated to encourage and empower female evangelists. As well as being so happy to meet loads of other women who put themselves out there for the sake of the gospel, I felt challenged to find my voice, and actually use it. We heard recent statistics about how women are far less likely to take opportunities to speak publicly in University evangelism than men, and how women across the board take far longer to recover from a professional setback than their male counterparts. We discovered that a lot of us felt held back by a pedantic, over–analytical voice in our heads when preparing to speak publicly. If we make a mistake it doesn’t help us grow and improve, it seems to confirm our unsuitability for the job! This is what keeps me silent when I know I should speak, the idea that my words should be above criticism. The old cliché that ‘perfect is the enemy of good’ turns out to be true. For women, perhaps we feel that the professional world isn’t quite built for us, so we must be perfect in order to participate.
If perfect is the enemy of good, then what about truth?
Do we abandon truth if we ignore our inner pedant for the sake of speaking? The real issue I think, is that because it feels desperately miserable to be publicly wrong, especially about things as foundational as worldview, that it seems easier to stay silent, even if you’re actually convinced of your views.
The women I met at FEUER are convinced of their worldview, but some still struggle to volunteer for public speaking, for fear of being misunderstood or seen as incompetent. Would you call it pride? Not necessarily in the way we typically think of pride. Pride is associated with loudmouths who think so much of themselves that they can’t keep a lid on it. What about the need to be above criticism? Is it pride or a self–protection mechanism, or a desire to only speak truth, or a combination of all three?
As a Christian, I can’t fall back on self–protectionism. My saviour knows full well that I’m imperfect in all sorts of ways, including intellectually. He died for me so I could join him forever. He’s given me the security of knowing my worth is found in him, and he’s perfect. So when I feel insecure about being misunderstood or wrong, I know there’s so much more at stake for the people who actually need to hear God’s words. My pride doesn’t have the final say, God does. If he wants to use an imperfect person to encourage others in their faith, so be it. The pages of scripture are full of people who are clearly flawed in many ways, and God used them to speak to the world, and point to the need for something perfect and true, Christ Jesus. The solution I’ve found to keep the inner critic in check isn’t to abandon the need for truth, but to read the words of Jesus. He is truth. He knows we’re not perfect. And he tells us to speak.
He is truth. He knows we’re not perfect. And he tells us to speak.
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