“That’s Not What I Heard”

“Good communication only happens when the listener understands the words of the speaker as the speaker intended them to be understood.”  I mentioned last post that my number one goal in communication as a couple is understanding my wife, not proving my point.  Assumptions and having a predisposed opinion of what our spouse is thinking or going to say is a destroyer of good communication.  Sometimes we need to dig for the speaker’s intended meaning.

Let me tap into an illustration from our short story, The Artist and the Minstrel (also available in Amazon’s Kindle store for your smart phone or reading device), to highlight the need to understand as the speaker intended.

“It’s Friday evening.  Rhonda and I agree that we should spend our Saturday working on the landscaping.  The flower beds need to be weeded, raked out, and have a general good clean up.  Saturday morning arrives.  The artist sees the finished project in her mind and knows the diligence it will take to get there, so she is early out in the garage gathering the tools.  The minstrel decides to sleep a little later.  After all, he has been going against his nature all week rising early for the drive to work and enjoys the little extra sleep.  When he does get up, the minstrel decides to make pancakes for breakfast, something he thinks everyone will enjoy on a Saturday morning.  He can’t understand the artist’s frustration when he tries to deliver her some pancakes in the back yard.  He thought he was doing her a favor.”

“Before going out to join his wife, the minstrel gets a call that one of the kids who was at an overnighter needs to be picked up.  He runs the errand and on the way home remembers he was going to get a haircut today.  So he drops junior off and goes back to the barber shop.  After looking for some lunch, playing a game with one of the kids, and checking the college football scores, the minstrel emerges from the house ready to join the artist in her work.  For some reason the artist blows up and the afternoon’s work is done in silence.  Why is the artist never happy?”

“Good communication only happens when the listener understands the words of the speaker as the speaker intended them to be understood.  When Rhonda suggested we work in the yard tomorrow, she was saying, ‘Let’s focus on the landscaping tomorrow.  That means we rise early, work diligently, and make it the number one goal above all others until the job is complete.’  What I heard her say was, ‘Tomorrow, when we have some free time, when we are not doing anything else, let’s go outside and work on the landscaping.’  The listener did not understand the words of the speaker as they were intended to be understood.”

Now granted, the listener may have been motivated by stubbornness or laziness and just didn’t want to hear, or allowed his personality bent to interfere with hearing, but that discussion is for another time.  As you seek to improve your marriage communication, remember this, “Good communication only happens when the listener understands the speaker in the way the speaker intended to be understood.”  Communicate for understanding.  Ask clarifying questions for understanding, not to prove your knowledge.  Then your conversation will contribute to your oneness instead of being a wedge that drives you apart.

Talk It Up

Good communication fills the emotional bank account of those closest to us.  Just as we were created for community, we were also created for communication.  Only through good communication can we hope to “know and be known.”

Good communication in marriage was a slow learning curve for me.  Early in our marriage my goal in communication with Rhonda was to prove my point.  Only as I began to live into the “love trumps knowledge” message of I Corinthians chapter 13 did I reorient my thinking.  Now my number one goal in communication as a couple is to understand my wife, not prove my opinion.  This change has brought a new sense of freedom to our marriage.

I am set free from the need to win, the need to have the last word, the need to keep up some kind of knowledge facade.  (Although you still have no chance against me in a game of Trivial Pursuit.  “In what year did the Winter Olympics begin?”)  And Rhonda has been set free from the badgering of “why are you doing that your way when it would be much smarter to…”

Recently, we were together in Walgreens ordering some Christmas photo greetings.  After working together choosing the layout and the pictures, we came to the quantity screen.  Rhonda suggested 60 cards.  The “knowledge” communicator in me wanted to say, “We ordered 50 cards last year and sent out about 20 and you want to order even more.  What are you thinking!”  See the “knowledge” argument here.  It’s based on the facts I know that she has probably forgotten.  By the gift of God’s Spirit inside, it was the “love” communicator that spoke first.  Recognizing the schedule challenges where this kind of thing usually ends up in Rhonda’s already busy court, I said, “I think if we work together we can do 60 cards.”

In marriage, we have every opportunity to practice the supremacy of love over knowledge in our conversation.  And when we do, the sky is the limit in the joy that lies ahead.  And, by the way, we had to go back for more cards.

Psychology and Natural Revelation

There are two broad ways that God has revealed information about Himself and the world He has created and the inhabitants of the world He has created.  The first, His special revelation, is His words and Word.  “All Scripture is God-breathed…” (II Tim 3:16).  It couldn’t be more clear;  God has spoken to us through the Bible.  Scripture is literally “God-breathed” to the point that we believe it is the words of God Himself recorded by His servants. 

In a specific Word, God sent Jesus, His Son.  “And the Word [which existed with God from the beginning (Jn 1:1)] became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).  The life of Christ in word and action is specific special revelation.  Another aspect of special revelation is the word that comes to us through the Holy Spirit.  “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13).  The voice of God living inside you as a believer is another way God speaks His special revelation to us.

God also speaks to us through His general or natural revelation.  “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1).  We usually think of God’s natural revelation in terms of the physical world and the hard sciences we use to study it.  In fact, the order and design of the world God that has created is often used as an apologetic for His existence.  Just as a watch implies a watchmaker (precision) and a wedding cake implies a baker (beauty), the precision and beauty of the world around us implies an intelligent creator.

An equally, but less-explored, branch of natural revelation in highlighting the union of our faith with seeing God in what He has made is studying the men and women that God has created in His own image.  You and I, saint and sinner, religious and pagan, ancient and modern, are all created in God’s image.  We are part of God’s natural revelation.  We sometimes see psychology, the study of the man inside, as an unholy alliance with Scripture, but that is not the case at all.  Properly understood, psychology is “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”, something we celebrate in the hard sciences.  We are not talking about pop psychology that has no understanding of the moral aspects of our being.  We are talking about observing human nature and understanding it through the grid of what the Bible teaches about man, sin, and redemption.

Understanding the value of understanding ourselves and those we love and why we act the way we do is part and parcel with the current direction of these marriage and family posts.  Advice based on personality differences, communication styles, and family-of-origin influences is not leaving God-inspired wisdom at the door.  It is embracing the intersection of our observations about ourselves and our understanding of being created in God’s image, though marred by sin.  Actually, before Christ, overwhelmed by sin.  As we continue with marriage and family advice don’t think we have abandoned the Christian message if every piece does not include Scripture.  In fact, it is only in the context of our new identity in Christ that this advice has the most opportunity to result in positive change.

Let me put it this way, as humbly as I can.  Rhonda and I were paying attention when God sent five children to our home.  Rhonda and I were paying attention to the bents, personalities, and heart of our children.  Rhonda and I were paying attention when we saw our marriage succumb to the challenges of personality differences, busyness, and laziness.  And Rhonda and I were paying attention when God restored our marriage by revealing some things about ourselves.  I guess you could say “we’ve been through things” and so have you.  Our belief is God gave “those things” for a larger purpose than ourselves and they join with Scripture to inform the advice we give.  So go ahead.  Don’t be afraid to use your God-infused observation of the people you care about as a starting point to helping them become all that God intended.  Every person is worth understanding.

Reading the Bible Together

Early in our child training years, we started a habit of regular Bible reading and teaching with our children.  Was it an easy routine to keep?  No.  The routine of teaching children is never convenient, but nothing worth having is.  We had plenty of stops and starts and many opportunities to just chuck the whole thing.  I don’t know which was the greater accomplishment:  The facts we taught our kids or the lesson to never give up as we kept coming back to the plan of reading and praying together.

One of the practical consequences of a regular Bible reading habit as a family was that the Scriptures became our greatest ally in training our children.  Because we went to God as the “last word” in our actions and attitudes, it lessened the power struggle between parents and children, us vs. them.  We continually reminded our children, “We are all on the same team.  We all desire to follow God’s pattern for our lives, individually and corporately.”  Our family Bible reading time elevated God’s Word to a place of prominence, not just because of the time spent in it, but because our kids saw the value that Mom and Dad placed on being in the Scriptures.

One reason we struggle with keeping the Bible reading habit going is because, quite frankly, we see it as “optional”, something we will get to when we have the time.  It does not hang over our head like a school or work assignment.  However, when we let other activities of life squeeze this out, our loud and clear message to our children is that reading the Bible together is not that important.  What we communicate to our family, whether we intend to or not, is that these other things that are squeezing it out are more important.  Is that the message we want to send to our family?

This doesn’t have to become a legalistic burden of “every day or we are failing parents.”  We need to give ourselves the same grace that we give to others.  But it does need to be regular enough so that our children know it is an important part of our family identity.  This activity is a vital part of “this is who we are.”

Family Team in Training

Similar to a sports team, one of the most important aspects in developing our family team is to formulate a training program for the participants.  A power packed verse in the New Testament regarding our family training program is Ephesians chapter 6, verse 4.  Understanding the key Greek words that underlie this verse adds great depth to its meaning.  The English version (NASB) reads like this with the Greek counterpart to the bold words shown in parentheses.

“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up (έκτρέφετε) in the discipline (παιδεία) and instruction (νουθεσία) of the Lord.”  Ephesians 6:4.

  • EKTREPHO translated “bring up” means “to nourish or feed
  • PAIDEIA translated “discipline” means “training that regulates character
  • NOUTHESIA translated “instruction” means “putting in the mind

So an expanded or amplified version of Ephesians 6:4 might read like this, “Fathers, do not provoke, antagonize, or exasperate your children to the point of harming your influence.  Instead, nourish them by establishing a training program that puts into their minds the ways and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our training goal is two-fold.  The top line, “do not provoke”, is about establishing a relationship.  Generally speaking, your positive influence in the life of your child is directly proportional to your relationship.  The bottom line, “instruction”, is about establishing a training program that puts the ways and knowledge of our Lord into the minds of our children.  Both lines are important.  The top line starts with a sincere interest in getting to know your children.  The bottom line starts with examining God’s Word together as a family in a pattern that is regular, planned, everyone involved, and parent-led.

Ephesians 6:4 is a balance of relationship and instruction.  Just like the balance of celebration and responsibility, love and control, grace and truth.