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E-mail Response Paralysis

by Deborah Brunt  
2/13/2013 / Humor

If you're one of the people waiting for me to answer your e-mail, please don't be angry. I can explain.

No, actually, I can't explain. But I think it has something to do with the century in which I was born. I'd have done well in the days of quill and ink. In that era, while you were blotting, you had time to ponder what to say next.

In today's e-mail e-ra, people expect a reply roughly 4.5 seconds after clicking the Send button. That's no problem for some of the guys on my floor at work. They can answer 120 e-mails in just under 12 minutes.

And me? Well, I delete the deletable stuff immediately, especially anything forwarded that says, "If you do not send this warning and/or message of love to your 25 closest friends, you are dirty scum not fit to walk this planet." But when it comes to real messages demanding real answers, I ponder. I deliberate. I labor over the briefest of replies.

If you wrote me but haven't heard back, I've read your message - and appreciated it greatly. I probably also clicked Reply, typed, "Hi!" and, several agonizing minutes later, clicked the button to Delete my half-written response. I quit mid-message because: (a) I couldn't think what to say; (b) I couldn't think how to say it; and/or (c) 3,258 other duties, including 71 more unanswered e-mails, were shouting from all directions, "You're taking too long with that one little message! Hurry!"

Alas, the word "hurry" often does more harm than good. In some cases, it can even create E-mail Response Paralysis, also known as ERP.

So here I sit, swamped with unanswered messages, trying desperately not to ERP, while my unanswered senders out there in cyberspace echo the sentiment a young upstart named Elihu expressed to a sufferer named Job. With Elihu they cry, "Behold, I waited for your words while you pondered what to say" (Job 32:11).

My accusers are right. I'm guilty as charged: a confirmed ponderer. But may I say briefly in my own defense: Pondering may make for slower answers, but it usually makes for better ones.

In Proverbs 5:5-6, a man known for his wisdom used these words to describe the woman who "does not ponder the path of life": "Her feet go down to death Her ways are unstable, she does not know it." Not a good scenario, wouldn't you say?

By contrast, this same wise man declared in Proverbs 15:28: "The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer."

Now hang with me here. In the original language of the Old Testament, this word "ponder" is "hagah," a close cousin to our own, "Ah hah!" A man named Vine who wrote a dictionary explaining such words, said, "It seems to be an onomatopoetic term, reflecting the sighing and low sounds one may make while musing."

If we stuff all the meanings of "hagah" into that one sentence from Proverbs, it reads: The heart of the righteous moans, growls, utters, muses, mutters, meditates, devises, plots, speaks.

Notice that the speaking (or in this case e-mail writing) comes after much rather noisy deliberation.

So if you're expecting an e-reply from me, take heart: it will eventually come. Meanwhile, imagine me sitting at my computer moaning, muttering, meditating, musing until that ah hah! moment when I know just what to say.

(c) 2001, 2005, 2012 by Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved. Adapted from Snapshot 102, Focused Living in a Frazzled World, by Deborah Brunt. Scripture quotations from NASU.

Deborah Brunt explores key truths for living life. The author of eight books and more than 1,500 published articles, she writes courageously, prophetically, redemptively. Visit her at and at

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