Anybody can talk. Most of us get started around the age of three and never learn to shut up. But talk is not the same thing as communication. Many of us never learn how to communicate. Fresh ideas and gestures of good fall wasted to the ground, unheard and unheeded. We try to be peacemakers, but are shocked when we make things worse!
The gospel can be helpful here. We are reminded that a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. [Proverbs 25:11] By the standards of the Proverb, it’s not sufficient to simply utter the truth; it must be spoken in the most helpful way. Similarly, Christ counsels us, “Let your yes be yes, and let your no be no. Anything beyond that is sin.” [Matthew 5:37] Once again, we are not simply told to be truthful. Beyond honesty and integrity, Christ is cautioning his disciples that we must also speak with clarity and consistency. Only then do people learn to trust the truth we convey.
Here in 2016, it’s almost cliche to that assert that communication is necessary for any healthy relationship. We’ve all heard it 1,000 times. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! But we make the failed assumption that simply requires talking to one another. There is, in fact, such a thing as too much talk. Communication begins when I speak my words in the manner that is most helpful and appropriate; I strive to share my thoughts with clarity and consistency. Then I add an exclamation point by listening to the other person’s response. That’s communication. That’s treasure!
A word fitly spoken is what happens when I learn to be assertive. I strip away all the anger, skepticism, and toxic emotions that might otherwise be part of my conversation, and I say clearly what I need. It’s not the same as being aggressive. Aggressive is generally pushy and often unkind. Assertive is just the facts, Ma’am,
- For example, an assertive spouse does not grow angry when guests are arriving in half an hour, but her husband is still watching sports commentary on ESPN. She does not imply he is a worthless clod, or that he has lost all his self-respect. She simply gives him a kiss on the cheek and asks sweetly, “Honey, can you pause and help me pick up the den so it will be straight when the Johnson’s arrive in a few minutes?”
- When your mother-in-law continues to push an idea for the kids that you completely abhor, letting your “no” mean “no”does not require rehashing the pro’s and con’s and angrily repeating your rationale fifteen times. The word aptly spoken sounds like this: “Thanks, Mom. [Smile!] You know I love you. But I’m going to stand firm on this.” You don’t have to make your case any more. Say this repeatedly.
- Neither does clear communication require shouting at your kids because they quarrel with one another every day after school. Screaming parents aren’t much better than quarreling kids. Wisdom calmly explains the unacceptable behavior and the penalty that will quietly come down at the first appearance of a violation. The wise parent explains there will be no further warnings, no additional debates. The first outbreak will bring the specified penalty, and Mom or Dad will be pleasant and utterly unperturbed as they collect all the video games and ground offenders for the week.
Words are not weapons, but they can be destructive. Words are tools. A well-made hammer can smash fingers, break china, and leave bent nails jutting dangerously out of the wood. But an ordinary hammer used correctly can fit pieces of wood together in ways that are beautiful and helpful. Our words can bring things together that same way. But it’s important to smile as we strip away the emotions, and bring peace and clarity together: just words.
Lift up the Cross!