Example One (Telling): It was a cold, snowy night.
Example Two (Showing): The wind whipped past her, pulling at her hair with each blustery breath. Snow pricked her rosy cheeks as it swirled about in every direction, blinding her with its dizzying brightness against the night sky. Stretching her numb fingers, she reached up and grasped the locket around her neck, the only thing she had left of her former life.
Which one paints a better picture? Sure, the first one tells you that it's cold and snowy, but the second one gives you a vivid description, so much so that you (the reader) almost feel the effects of the cold. Showing can make the reader shiver while telling typically only makes him yawn. It's an effective practice, but one that is not easily mastered.
On my prayer walk this morning, I was reminded that this method of "Show; Don't Tell" reaches far beyond the writing world. Then I was convicted by the realization that I've been doing a lot of "telling" and not much "showing."
This realization began as I prayed for a loved one who is struggling with health issues and is refusing to come to grips with what it means to eat and live and healthy lifestyle. While pouring out my frustrations to the Lord and asking Him to open the eyes of this loved one, I heard that still, not-so-quiet voice urge, "Why don't you show him instead of just telling him?" Um, well, because that means I'd have to do what I know is right instead of doing what I want to do. That means I'd have to give up my treats and my sweets. That means I'd have to get more serious about exercising regularly and doing what it takes to care for my temple. Crazy! All this time I've been telling my friend how to eat healthy, but not once have I made the effort to show him. I have been a voice but not an example.
Unfortunately, God's guidance this morning didn't end there. "And what about your spiritual walk, Dana? Are you leading by example there?" Um, well, not really. I mean, I follow Your will the best I can, and I tell others what I feel You want me to share. I encourage others to trust You and to surrender their lives to You. But, alas, I do it with words. Once again, I'm telling, not showing. How can I expect to impact the lives of others if I say one thing, then act another way entirely? I speak of trusting God, yet live my days in worry and fear. I urge others to leave their expectations behind, yet grow angry when things don't work out my way. What in the world?
The Lord and I had a nice, long chat this morning, and He opened my eyes to some heartbreaking things. But He also reminded me that it's never too late to change. He brought to my mind Lamentations 3:22-23, It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. No, I cannot go back and re-write my past, but I can make sure that the future of my story has a lot more "show" and a lot less "tell." After all, it is true what they say--Actions speak louder than words.