Monday, May 16, 2011

Communication Woes

Amos 3:3 Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Many of us have experienced times when true communication seems impossible and frustrating.

Take for example, discussions about abortion, where opposite sides try to claim the higher ground in defending a "woman's rights." Though both sides claim to be championing what is best for the mother, when the pro-life side brings in biblical arguments, the pro-abortion side refuses to accept any religious stance.

Or try discussing politics, where each side comes from very opposing world-views about the purposes of government. When they try to define what they believe, they usually come to no common ground of language on which to agree.

My first husband and I were very much on common ground when we married, and continued so until his death. However, at six years into our marriage we hit a stagnant period when we wondered if the bond we had was really all there was to unity and joy in marriage. Some friends encouraged us to attend a "Marriage Encounter" weekend, and they even kept our children overnight while we stayed at the hotel for the conference.

One of the first sessions was about definitions. We were each given the assignment to spend ten minutes in different rooms writing a short essay on our definition of "joy", using color, sound, and feelings to describe "joy." Then we were to come back together in our hotel room, exchange notebooks, read and discuss each other's definition for ten minutes.

What an eye-opening experience! My definition of "joy" was "quietly sitting beside a tranquil lake in the golden dappled light coming through pine trees, listening to the wind whispering through the trees, and being mesmerized by the sun glistening on the water."

My husband's definition of "joy" was "rockets blasting off, fireworks splashing the night with color, and heart-bursting exuberance." We were both shocked at how differently we looked at the same word! My joy was full of peace and quiet, his was full of activity and noise. (Maybe that is part of the difference between men and women!)

There were several additional sessions of "ten and ten" as the leaders gradually gave us harder questions to ponder. Then came a "ninety and ninety" session. In our hour and a half apart, we were to write about our greatest fears; then exchange notebooks and read and discuss what each had written for the next hour and a half. I cannot remember all the details, but mine involved my fear of not being able to do all I wanted to do as a mother in rearing our children. My husband's was his fear that as I often asked him to pray for me and our family, his prayers would not even reach to the ceiling, and God would not hear him.

My husband's fear was greatly relieved when I told him I never depended on the effectiveness of his praying, but depended only on God who alone knows our deepest need. My fear about being able to teach our children all they needed to know by the time they left home never fully went away, but was greatly abated by realizing that only God could hold onto our children and teach them. We must do our part to biblically train them, but above all we must trust them to God's care, and never stop praying for them. We thought ninety minutes would be a long time to spend talking about one topic, but the discussion we had that day continued throughout our marriage.

Our communication views were changed after that "encounter" and our marriage took on new depth, as we learned not to take for granted our sometimes differing ideas on word meanings. Instead of expecting each other to know us well enough to read our minds, we needed lots of communication time, which can be difficult when you are rearing children. My husband and I continued our "ten and ten" times for many years after the Marriage Encounter. We would sit on the couch and tell our children that mommie and daddy were unavailable for fifteen minutes and they could play quietly in their rooms and not interrupt us. When they tip-toed through the living room on their way to get frequent glasses of water, they watched us holding hands, looking at each other and talking. I am not sure what they remember of those times, but for us, it was crucial to take the time daily to communicate our feelings and define goals for ourselves and our family. (Night time was not the best time, because we were usually exhausted.)

We took a whole day off once, leaving the children with friends, while we talked about God's plan for our family and in what areas our children needed special attention. We felt that our family goal should be to show the world the unity of the Godhead through our family-- five totally different people cheerfully demonstrating unity of spirit to the world around us. To do that, we needed to learn how to honor each other and how to handle differences biblically. We kept our list simple: Instant obedience to parents, no hitting, no biting, no name calling, no tale-bearing to each other nor to those outside the family. We had frequent "family conference" times to check up on our progress implementing our family goals.

Our son once called his younger sister a donkey (word changed to less objectionable one), and for his punishment, he had to clean her entire bedroom to her specifications. After several hours cleaning the room and dusting all his sister's miniature animal collection, putting each one back in its particular place with his sister following his every move, our son said he would never call her a bad name again-- the penalty was too much for him! And to my knowledge, he never dishonored her that way again!

In our daily communication, my husband and I discovered the great importance of agreeing together about word and concept meanings. It was not enough to say, "We need to be more generous." We had to come to an agreement about what generosity meant to each one of us, and how to apply that to our family and finances. It was not enough for my husband to tell me he wanted me to take care of the checkbook-- I needed to know if I would be just carrying the checkbook in my purse all the time, or if I also would be writing the checks for all the bills, doing the banking, etc. We had to agree on all aspects of our finances, otherwise, I would be surprised by some expectation of his that I had neglected, or I might surprise him by some decision I made about our finances without his input.

We had gone into our marriage denigrating the "50/50" definition of marriage. Our lofty goal was to give 60% and only expect 40%. After several years of marriage, we came to the conclusion that, biblically, marriage is 100/0: give 100% and expect nothing in return. We were both 100% committed to our marriage and our family, and whatever division of labor we agreed to, we discussed the job descriptions in detail, so we knew what should be done.

Because of our commitment to be with our children, we decided I should always be a stay-at-home mom. When we realized our children should not be taught by public schools, we began teaching them at home. That was another topic of discussion which needed defining and re-defining as the years went by.

When our two older children were in college, we had a family conference to evaluate our family goal before they returned to classes in the fall. My husband and I thanked God for enabling us to accomplish our goal of demonstrating unity in a family of five distinct personalities, and giving us loving friendship with each other. We five became our own best friends

My husband was an elder in our church, and we often were called upon for marital counseling. As we counseled couples, we came to see that one of the biggest killer of marriages and other relationships is "expectation!" We encouraged the couples to define their goals for their marriage– “If you do not have a goal, how do you know when you have reached it? And how can you avoid being disappointed in each other because of some undefined expectations you should have defined?”

When we found ourselves with resentment against each other because we held to vague expectations, my husband and I would go to a private place away from the children and hug each other while we confessed our sin and renounced selfish expectations. Then we prayed for each other. It is difficult to hold resentment when praying for the one you resent. And it is difficult to resent someone when you are free of expectations.

Job 42:10 ¶ And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. 12 So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning:

Job was “captive” by his expectations of consolation from his friends. We also become captive to expectations which may even cause us to become bitter.

Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

May we be sensitive to our susceptibility of picking up offenses when none were meant. May we be free of expectations from others in matters that only God can satisfy. May we be like the wise man who “defined” his plan before he began building a tower!

Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?

May God give us wisdom to define our words in such a way that others will have no uncertainty about our communication! May our communication be clear, and filled with love and kindness.

I Cor. 13:4 ¶ Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 ¶ Charity never faileth:


  1. What an encouraging post Grammie! Praise God God is all we need and He provides for us always even when prayers are not verbally said to Him He still knows the need. I miss you all and I am praying for you and Grampa and your family!

    love in Christ,

  2. What a blessing. Communication is so much deeper than many people realize and an understanding of that is so important.

    Your approach to communication in marriage is exactly what I would want!