What Are You Talking About?

Losing my ability to work and earn a living was terrible. Becoming paralyzed and wheelchair-bound was horrible. Losing my ability to eat was a tough pill to swallow, literally. But losing my ability to speak is by far the most difficult aspect of this cruel disease called ALS.

I haven’t been able to speak with my God-given voice for almost twenty years so it might seem strange that I am writing about the power of the spoken word. As one who can only speak through my computer’s Text-to-Speech program, I have become more and more observant of the words of others. For good or for bad, the words we speak are powerful.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21) 

Studies claim that men speak around seven thousand words a day and women speak a whopping twenty thousand words – in just one day. Mary is my caregiver so I might be treading on dangerous ground here, but, from what I’ve observed over the thirty-three years of marriage, I tend to believe these studies are accurate.

I remember so well when I began to lose my ability to speak. Even though I hadn’t had a drink in twelve years, my voice started to sound like I was drunk. In fact, a police officer pulled me over at 9:30 in the morning and, after speaking with him, he asked if I had been drinking. Because all of the muscles needed to speak became weaker and weaker as the day wore on, by three in the afternoon, I sounded like a really tired drunk. Knowing this, I began to make important phone calls and meet people as early in the day as possible. I also started to choose my words very carefully; I didn’t have the luxury of idle chatter. It was then, two decades ago, that I began to value the ability to speak. Like working, walking, and eating, talking was just one more thing that I took for granted before ALS invaded my life.

“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

An incredible fact: To create speech, around a hundred different muscles in the chest, neck, jaw, tongue, and lips must work together. Every word or short phrase that is physically spoken is followed by its own unique arrangement of muscle movements. The information necessary for producing a phrase is saved in the speech area of the brain. – Reference.com

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)

Imagine what a great world it would be if we only spoke “what is helpful for building others up” and to “benefit those who listen.” 

Maybe women do talk more than men, but I wonder what men and women would say, and who we’d speak to, if our ability to speak were limited to just three thousand words a day. At first, there would likely be a lot of quiet dinner tables, but over time I think people would learn to measure their words. I would hope that most of us would learn to save our words for important things, not for gossip and backbiting. I have seen close relationships, even family relationships, ruined by words. And, so many people have been scarred for life from verbal abuse. Maybe we should learn to live as if our speech was limited.

“Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak…” (James 1:19)

We might think it’s unfair, but non-Christians judge followers of Christ by the way we speak and the words we use. For example, if you ever want to prove that you are not a follower of Christ, start cursing. This tactic worked great for Peter:

“A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:73-75)

The Bible has so much to say about the importance of words. In fact, Jesus said that the words we speak define who we are, and how we’ll ultimately be judged:

“…the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good, and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34-37)

The best use of your ability to speak is making a commitment to follow Christ, just as I did thirty-six years ago. It’s so easy, and you’ll never regret it:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)

About Bill Sweeney

In 1996, Bill was diagnosed with ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) and the doctors told him he had 3-5 years to live. He is now completely paralyzed and unable to speak, but by God’s grace, he’s still alive and through his blog shares a message of hope in Christ - Unshakable Hope!

Posted on March 29, 2019, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 108 Comments.

  1. Awesome post, Bill! It is so inspiring that you can turn a really hard situation into a stirring devotional! So glad you followed me so I could follow back. I look forward to reading more.

  2. I talk way more than the average girl and boy combined. I’m praying for you and your family. I love how you are allowing God to use you in the most of a trial.

  3. Seems you haven’t lost your ability to speak; you just do it in a different form. I used to speak in a different form, in my art, in photography, and through prayer, and the strength I get from prayer, sometimes I speak in a verbal form, also. Being different is not the same as being silent, I’ve learned. Peace. artfromperry

  4. Linda L Christianson

    You never leave me disappointed in the time I spend reading your words. You may not speak words that we can hear but your message is so loud and clear and makes me leave this sight with much to be thankful for and much to look forward to in my life. After enduring my patience to the fullest and just about ready to buy a lot and build a new home God sent the call to us that someone was moving to an apartment and her twin home would become available for purchase. Just 18 hours after I worked for three months to get a lot rezoned for a twin home and went to all the meetings and waited for answers. I was trying to be patient but decided that I needed to make something happen instead of just waiting for something to happen. When it was all done and ready to go ahead and build we get the call for something to buy. We did build at age 30 and again at age 51 and now at 71 that was not going to be easy for us. God knew all along that he had a plan for us I just wasn’t waiting. My trusting was not in a good place. Thanks be to God that we soon will be moving into our new home. Blessings to you and Mary.

    • Thank you for your comments, Linda. Mary and I have also built two homes, patience is definitely needed. We are thinking about selling our home, but we will not be building again, too stressful!

  5. Hi Bill,
    Your post touched me deeply today. I was a speech-language pathologist a million years ago…and I ascribe to the fact that I probably speak more than your estimated 20K a day! I think what you have made me think about is that maybe I should be more selective in the words I use. I have been trying to listen more…now I want to make sure that if the words are coming across my lips then I want them to mean something.
    You always inspire…I am grateful to have connected here with you.
    Sweet Blessings!

    • Thank you for your comments, Lorrie. It’s great that you were a speech pathologist. Unfortunately, speaking less, and even not speaking at all, doesn’t automatically make us better listeners. I still have to make an effort to be a better listener.

  6. This is such an inspiring post!

  7. Hi Bill,
    Thanks so much for sharing. That is very convicting.
    Also I heard you are writing a book, I will continue to pray for you and for the many people who will read it as well!

    May Jesus bless you!

    Ian

    “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” James 3:5-6

  8. Bill, Wow! This is so powerful. God has used this post as a confirmation to lessons He’s been teaching me. You see, your post pairs well with my last two about what the Bible has to say about “listening.” We must close our mouths in order to really listen.

    Like my sweet mother, I have the gift of gab. Mom suffered from two brain tumors.The last one was only 3 mm from her brain stem. Because of the danger, the surgery to remove the tumor was through the roof of her mouth. Her speech was never the same after the surgery. Although she loved talking to everyone (including total strangers), it was a struggle. She took it in stride, saying it helped her to give thought to what she wanted to say and to become a better listener. Her most important message was about the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. She spent her last years telling everyone that Jesus saves!
    Thanks for a convicting and inspirational post, my friend.
    God bless you, Mary, and your family.

    • Wow, Beckie. Have you written a post about this? If yes, please include a link in a reply. I am looking forward to meeting your mom. As I mentioned, I can only speak through my Text-to-Speech program and I type so slow that, like your mom, I have to think about the quickest way to say what I want. Spoken or written, words are so important.

  9. Powerful and poignant, dear Bill. Your written words make me want to watch my words more wisely. So much of what is said in a day wouldn’t even be missed if we cut out all but the best.
    Blessings to you & Mary ~ Wendy

  10. Such a powerful post! Thank you for sharing! If you’d ever like to guest post we would love to have you on DailyPS. Our readers would love to hear from your perspective!

  11. Lynda Kay Verity

    I must confess, I have experienced the consequences of speaking before engaging my brain and I have put strains on relationships with friends over it. Thank you, Bill, for reminding me to choose my words carefully. I think they should invent an alarm clock that wakes you up with a daily scripture to have a daily reminder of how to act and be kind to others, I think I would like that product. Love and Hugs to you and Mary!

  12. Another great reminder! One of the statements that struck me was:

    “We might think it’s unfair, but non-Christians judge followers of Christ by the way we speak and the words we use.”

    I have a Christian friend whose husband was a pastor and studied at Dallas Theological Seminary. They have a joint social media account and recently shared a meme during the peak of the recent abortion debate. It said something to the effect that any woman who chooses to have a late-term abortion should be mandated to have a hysterectomy. Although I had not previously responded to any of their other political posts, I couldn’t keep from commenting, because it was so black-and-white, lacked compassion, and didn’t sound like Jesus. It grieved me, and I could only imagine that if a non-Christian read it, they might think, “If this is Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus, I want nothing to do with it.”

    We must be very careful how we use our words and the words of others. Thank you, Bill.

    • So true, Rene. I never forget the mindset I had before becoming a follower of Christ. I know the kind of statements, especially self-righteous statements, that pushed me away from “religion.” As followers of Christ, we have to be so careful with our words and what we post on social media…

  13. I loved this. So inspiring. Truer words ever spoken.

  14. Wow. You really used your words well to describe what foolishness we fall into with words that aren’t carefully considered. I’m a wordy person–I have great capacity to talk way more than anyone wants to hear. But I’m intrigued by the challenge of thinking in only three thousand words a day. Of truly considering what is good and necessary to say. Words of encouragement and blessing. Thank you for this wonderful perspective on how we, who still have the luxury of language, waste much of it. You’ve given me much to think about. I’m grateful, Bill.

  15. Excellent thoughts for our word-sick world. A great read. Thank you. 🙏🏻

  16. Thank you Bill. You are always using your gift of encouragement wisely. We who follow you are continually blessed.

  17. Great post Bill. Thank you for the reminder of how powerful our words are. As I read this I thought of how Jesus told us that we would give an account in the day of judgement for every idle word we have spoken (Matt.12:36).
    Sobering, isn’t it?
    Take care my friend, remember God is faithful to care for us.

  18. This is something I should work on. I’ve been getting on my little brother because he tends to talk incessantly, but that doesn’t mean I’m not guilty of talking unnecessarily as well. Wonderful post. You are in my prayers!

  19. Wonderful post Bill! Thank you for THESE much needed words into my heart today.

  20. Hi Bill! You’re a brave man, making the comparison between the number of words spoken in a day by men and woman! I’ve done that a couple of times at my end and if you want I can send you a picture of my bruises. “Love jabs” she calls them. We know better.
    I also have seen the damage that words can do. Your post is sobering and true. And like you, the best words that ever came out of my mouth where the words where I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. It’s always so good to hear from you. Grace and blessings my friend.

  21. Thank you Bill for this timely reminder. Words are powerful, we should be mindful of them for we don’t always know where they will land.
    Wishing you the very best with your book quest.

  22. Thank you for continuing to inspire us with your courage and hope. Your sharing today has given me something to think about.

  23. We take so many “ordinary” things for granted, Bill. You put that in perspective. Thank you for the lesson. Your voice, by the way, is stronger than ever.

    Your friend,

    A.

  24. Thanks Bill, a great post, I am sure it has challenged many of your followers.

  25. I am so glad I click on your blog post…brother you are full of wisdom and truth. Thank you not allowing your illness to stop your voice…for preserving and learning new ways to communicate. ALS took my brother in law life finally. We too thought he was drinking a little too much in the early stage of his illness. My husband said of his brother, he taught me how to die. He kept his humor right up to the end. I can see his face as I type this, the smile when we walked into his house to see him. Thank God he had a loving family to be there for him. I will be back to gleam some more wisdom.

    • Thank you for sharing your comments, Betty. I’m sorry you lost your brother-in-law. Having loving family and friends surrounding you in any trial makes all the difference in the world.

  26. Charlotte Finley Domingue

    May the Lord continue to bless you with your awesome ability to adapt…prayers for you.

  27. And we are blessed that” text-to speech “was developed for such a time as this. Thank you

  28. Although you have no voice God hears your heart..
    Amen to the powerful words you type 🙂
    Please research NAD IV therapy for ALS..
    In some states they have nurses that can administer it at home..
    It has shown great progress.. NAD is a form of vitamin B3.
    God Bless you and your family.

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. God does see our heart/motives. “…man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). I’ll look on the ALS forum for experiences with NAD. Thanks.

  29. Wise words, Bill, and accompanied by perfect scripture to make your points. As I finished reading, a vision (of sorts) popped into mind. What if we could actually SEE the words we’re about to speak? The encouraging, helpful, worthwhile words might glow with rainbow hues that we’d delight to share. On the other hand, the hurtful, unkind, negative words might look (and smell) like old garbage. We’d be quick to grab those back and toss them away before anyone else noticed them. I for one do not want to be a purveyor of garbage! (And based on the number of comments here, I’m clearly not the only one. The ripple effect of your wisdom is well under way, Bill!)

    • I like your vision, Nancy. As you know, I use an eye-tracking computer to type on an on-screen keyboard. This is a painfully slow process to “speak.” It has its advantages, though. So many times I’ve looked at a sentence before clicking the speak key and deleted the line. Being “slow to speak” is a good thing 🙂

  30. Very inspiring! Another thought that convicts me when it comes to choosing our words carefully, is that I may also be judged for the words I DON’T say: thoughts of gratitude and praise that never become words.

  31. Powerful.

  32. Great words, Bill. Praying for you always. 🙂

  33. Being limited to three thousand words a day… There are ways God can accomplish that. Nothing like a good case of laryngitis to make one think before speaking and ask herself, “Is this thought worth wearing out my voice to say out loud?” (Usually the answer is, “Not really.”)
    (Please don’t ask me how I know this…)

  34. Bill, One of my 2019 intentional goals at work is to choose words wisely before speaking. I am finding I speak about 25% the number of words I was speaking in 2018
    and being more effective in communicating to my coworkers. Thanks to you and one other person I know who can only communicate via computer. Mi inspiration.
    I think of you often and pray for you when you come to mind. You reflect God’s glory in your words strung together well. Thanks

  35. I was just reading this morning about God’s words to Jeremiah, who was accusing God of being a “false spring”. God told him that if he would start speaking worthy rather than worthless words, God would restore Him and use Him.

    God has reminded me over and over to look to Him for truth and to speak His words and let go of everything that everyone else has to say. Your blog was an exclamation point. Thanks

    Audrey Steele

  36. Straight from your heart to mine. God is still using you.

  37. Dear Bill and Mary, I work at Moody Radio and have talked about you many times on the air, and your faith and hope and also your struggles. I am so glad that Chris Fabry actually had you on the air!
    Please know this as truth..I lift both of your names up to the Lord every morning and evening. I am sending love to you both, with thanks for you.

  38. Awesome and powerful! You’re such an encouragement and inspiration to many. My prayer is that God will continually bless you in all you do.

  39. A great word, Bill! So true. I have been very convicted about my words lately, especially to my teenagers, and I have the first two verses you cited posted above the sink where I wash dishes a zillion times a day! My prayer is for God to purify my heart so that I don’t have to worry about what comes out of it through my mouth. I also often pray Psalm 141:3 – “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth and keep watch over the door of my lips!”

    In some ways, your ALS-way of speaking is a blessing. I know I love writing because I can go back and edit what I say. In your case, you are forced to put more thought into your words before they are spoken – kind of like pre-editing. I am sure it stinks most of the time, but I can see a blessing inherent in it, too! May He make me as thoughtful about my words even though I have the capacity (and propensity) to be a blurter…

    May God richly reward you for your faithfulness to share His truth!

    • Thank you, Heather. That’s a good idea to post the verses over the sink. Psalm 141:3 is another great verse. The Bible has so much to say about our words.

  40. Wow…”I wonder what men and women would say, and who we’d speak to, if our ability to speak were limited to just three thousand words a day.”…that’s really something to think about! Great post Bill!

  41. This is beautiful. Thank you. Eph. 4:29 is a big reason I left Facebook and may toss twitter as well. I like the picture illustration. Those young ladies could as easily be sharing the joy of the Lord as gossiping, couldn’t they.

  42. Wow..”I wonder what men and women would say, and who we’d speak to, if our ability to speak were limited to just three thousand words a day.”…. that’s something to really think about! Great post Bill!

  43. Bill. . .what an inspiration you are! Thanking you and our Lord for having me read this today! Prayers going up for you and your family – Hooray!

  44. Wonderfully true words spoken from a man with such God given wisdom!

  45. You bring words of wisdom along with so much hope and encouragement to others. Thank you and blessings to you.

  46. The spoken word is an amazing gift. Everyone in your family has this gift but most of all you. It is amazing what you convey in your daily communications. This is a gift to all of us especially more and more as we see our kids preferring texting over talking. Love you

  47. Vincent Sweeney

    Amazing the things we take for granted Bill. Thank you for putting this in perspective.

  48. Bill, this is so powerful and is speaking straight to my heart. I am a person who is quick with words, many times way too quick. I often live by the motto, “say it now, regret it later” … I am convicted deeply to slow down and weigh more carefully the things that come out of my mouth. Thank you, Bill for this! I appreciate you and Mary more than words can say 🙂

  49. Always refreshing to read your articles.

  50. Thank you. I’m printing this one out.

  51. Amen Bill! That is a powerful and convicting word of encouragement that we all need to hear. You and your family are always in my prayers. God bless you all!

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