I firmly believe that one of the greatest problems in the church, in our families, and in all of humankind is the lack of communication. I don’t simply mean a lack of speaking. Rather, what I mean by a lack of “communication” is (1) a lack of clear speaking, (2) the lack of persuasive rhetoric, and (3) the pervasiveness of deceptive glory-of-self (denigration-of-another) motivated speech.
Ask my wife; in many ways we reverse the “typical” gender stereotypes, that of the closed off silent man and the always jabbering woman. I’m the preacher, the jabberer, and I often mistakenly believe that this means I’m the communicator.
But this post isn’t about my life goal of opening up communication.
Date Night Disaster
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:27-28)
I am the fool, but everyone knows it because I rarely keep my mouth shut. Ask anyone. “Just don’t ask my real good friends, ’cause they will lie to you, or worse they’ll tell the truth” (Derek Webb).
My wife is an absolute revelation of grace, common sense, and tempered wisdom. She is not perfect, and she is very often way too hard on herself (aren’t we all!), but when it comes to discernment, perceptiveness, and helpful insight she is second to none.
This brings me to our date night(s). Many of Jodee and I’s date nights have been wonderful hits: great conversation, a wonderful dinner, a night on the town or at the beach (when in Rome…), or a whimsical movie experience. Many other date nights… not so much.
If you don’t have proper breath support when singing a note or tooting a horn you can fade to flat, lose the melody, and destroy the moment. All too often our date nights start in tune but quickly devolve into a flat experience; diverting sure, and often filled with excellent riffs, but the whole experience can be a disappointment. But the problem isn’t a lack of breath support but my complete inability to take a breath.
Enter my beautiful bride before, during, and after our most recent date night (a perfect, romantic setting: sunset on the bay).
Beforehand, she forwarded me an excellent article on how to be a thoughtful host, encourage awesome dinnertime conversation, and really discipline yourself to put others ahead of yourself. This wise bit of writing from Michael Hyatt, a modern day take on the Socratic method (or Christian wisdom), is doing work on my mind and soul, but on our last date, that message was lost in the flurry of thoughts that came spewing out of my mouth, all the while “enjoying” a night alone with my bride.
During our date, she subtly reminded me of my talking too much (subtlety rarely catches my attention, another of my sinful proclivities), thus she knew that I required a bit more… direct method of communication. If she was on a date with our 4 year old this would’ve been expected. Alas, in some ways, I’m still a clueless 4 year old, you know, without the innocence and purity of heart.
Our drive home was mostly silent, due both to my finally heeding her wisdom and to my complete lack of conversational creativity. But I was determined to right my wrong, to repent of my sin, and to clearly express what I feel: deep love and affection for her. After a quick re-read of the Hyatt post, and with a pinch of comedy and self-deprecation, the night ended well, her affection for me wasn’t altogether tarnished, and I continued to learn this valuable lesson.
When a Good (Communication) is twisted into a Bad (that’s what sin does)
How are we to communicate and not simply jabber? How are we to relate to another person, truly know them and be known by them?
James, the brother of Jesus put it like this:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (James 1:19 ESV)
Pascal, in his 701st pensee, like this:
When we want to correct someone usefully and show him he is wrong, we must see from what point of view he is approaching the matter, for it is usually right from that point of view, and we must admit this, but show him the point of view from which it is wrong. This will please him, because he will see that he was not wrong but merely failed to see every aspect of the question.
Peter Kreeft, quoting Kierkergaard’s The Point of View, elaborates this point:
If real success is to attend the effort to bring a man to a definite position, one must first of all take pains to find him where he is and begin there. This is the secret of the art of helping others. Anyone who has not mastered this is himself deluded when he proposes to help others. In order to help another effectively I must understand more than he–yet first of all surely I must understand what he understands. If I do not know that, my greater understanding will be of no help to him. If, however, I am disposed to plume myself on my greater understanding, it is because I am vain or proud, so that at bottom, instead of benefitting him, I want to be admired. But all true effort to help begins with self-humiliation: the helper must first humble himself under him he would help, and therewith must understand that to help does not mean to be a sovereign but to be a servant, that to help does not mean to be ambitious but to be patient, that to help means to endure for the time being the imputation that one is in the wrong and does not understand what the other understands.
And our Lord, ever slow to speak:
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. (Matthew 27:11-12 ESV)
and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:29-31 ESV)
How does all this relate to date night?
Really, the art of persuasion is the art of being human. In order to communicate, to know and to be known, we must shut our mouths and listen. In order to persuade someone we must first listen, truly empathize, and then, with great humility and plenty of salt, speak.
I really want to be known by God, but more so to be loved by him. I really want to be known by my wife, but more so to be loved by her. This dual reality is mine, it is hers, and it is the collective desire of each person who has ever lived.
Communication is a wonderful thing because we serve a speaking God. Communication has the power to melt cold hearts, to slowly and gently bring someone out of the dark cave of despair, sin, and shame. But jabbering isn’t communication; it’s just annoying.
Is your deepest desire to communicate? Yeah? Awesome. Now shut up.