The human need for being-understood-and-understanding-others is fascinating. The last few weeks I have been bombarded on various levels with this concept, and it sent me into some contemplation.
Time … is not on our side
Living in the Western World implies having a busy life. “Busy” seems to be like a password, used whenever we enter a new conversation. When asked “Hi, how are you doing?” nine out of ten times the reply will be “good thanks, just busy”. When we’re busy, we’re tempted to take shortcuts to communicate the necessary information in the shortest possible time — a natural consequence of managing so many demands!
Time also often equates to money or other resources. My husband and I both work as independent consultants, charging an hourly fee for much of the work we do. “Billable time” has become a buzz-word in our household. We have to guard our time and use it efficiently to squeeze out sufficient billable time to meet our financial responsibilities. Otherwise, we might end up with a month-end bank balance that screams like a hungry baby. The saying “time is money” is a very real experience for us. This idea can easily lead us to think and act in ungodly ways.
The Covid-related economic situation creates a similar tension for many people we know. Those who lost their jobs suddenly had to become entrepreneurs. The SME (small to medium enterprise) space is booming as people try to make a living when there is no fixed income any more.
Working from home brings a mix of both comforts and discomforts. Juggling domestic and work/meeting commitments fills our headspace quickly. Time, and therefore also our patience and kindness, slips out from under us, and it often takes our ability to communicate well along with it.
Kids are kids
Or are they?
This pressure on time is not just a reality for adults, but also our kids. Our 15-year-old daughter has at least eight WhatsApp groups to manage communication regarding class issues (these are not social groups). Still in the trial-and-error phase when it comes to time-management, she sometimes works into the small hours of the morning. Checking in, I would then occasionally find her asleep at her desk. Still a child, but trying so hard to adult-up and manage the demands on her time. My son, now 12 years old, expresses his stress when he rattles off his to-do list for the day in the car on the way to school. I can sense his tension and my heart breaks. I cannot tell you how many of our car conversations are brain-storm sessions so that he could optimise his available time.
With all this pressure on our time, it is no wonder that we always feel “busy”. During busy and stressful times, it becomes tricky to communicate relevant information to all the role players in our lives. I certainly try to cut corners. My WhatsApp messages become cryptic. Every so often it is just not possible to give timeous feedback to emails. I become rushed in my communication style. The calm and kind demeanour that I would love to portray, evades me in these moments. My instruction to my kids become thorny. I forget to give them enough information about agendas for a task at hand. I show irritation where I should show kindness. The desire is there to have efficient, timeous and kind communication with the people around me, but all too often it goes south. The teaching from Proverbs 16:24:
Kind words are like honey — sweet to the souls and healthy for the body”
becomes a precious but scarce commodity. If not for God’s grace, words can speedily tear through our emotional flesh and bone. James 3:5 speaks about the tongue being a small thing, but boy what enormous damage it can do.
Hard to give, soft to receive
It is hard to give efficient, timeous information in a kind and empathetic tone. But receiving information in this way is a refreshing and satisfying experience.
Proverbs 18:20 describes it well:
Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach
I will never forget the experience when I started working at the hospital where I still consult. Most of my consultations with families were telephonic. I started suffering from neck-and shoulder spasms due to hours on the phone. The hospital manager ordered a head-piece that could be plugged into the phone, to ease the discomfort. When delivering the head-piece, he took enough time to show me exactly how to plug in into the phone to set it up.
I remember walking out of his office, astonished that he would give of his precious time to explain a simple thing that I could have figured out on my own. It saved me time and spared me from having to deal with confusion as I set up the new head piece. What a blessing. Truly refreshing. I remember the feeling of safety and confidence it created — and that about a silly thing like a head piece.
I experienced what Proverbs 18:4 says that:
A person’s words can be life giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.
If that is true for a simple thing like using a head-piece, how much more of a blessing it can be in more complex scenarios!
Not dealing with communication issues leads to a myriad of sticky issues. At the hospital where I work, it’s in integral part of my job to be the “communication plumber”. Doctors and other healthcare professionals have to make decisions quickly — decisions that directly affect the patients’ lives. There are many role players. So, it does not take much for important communication to fall by the bayside. When staff’s empathy barometers shows low on the scale, communication breakdown towards patients rise high. The patients feel left out of the loop. They experience confusion and sometimes even resentment, as they don’t know what to expect. They sit with fears of unwanted diagnosis after their tests. Likewise, they have questions about treatment plans and the practical impact on their lives. As the “communication-plumber”, I have many stories where patients just wanted to be heard and to be communicated to.
One story in particular really touched my heart. I saw a couple who were struggling with infertility for many years but finally fell pregnant. The mom gave birth, and they heard the much anticipated first cry of their baby boy. Alas, their elation was short-lived as the little one had to be rushed to the Neonatal ICU. (This did not happen at the hospital where I normally work, just to let them off the hook). What followed was a nightmarish few days for the new and anxious parents. They have yearned for many years to hold a warm little body in their arms, but instead, the breakdown in communication between parents and the medical personnel, created a whirlwind of confusion. They felt as if they were out in the dark on their own, being cheated out of the many little first-time events which accompany the birth of your first child. When one wise sister identified this confusion, she sat down with the couple. In one session she could clarify facts and calm many fears. She could listen to their need to be included as partners in their baby’s medical treatment plan.
These communication breakdowns are exacerbated when patients have communication disabilities. Hearing or speech impediments are very real problems, for example after stroke, or during ventilation of a patient. These patients cannot communicate their needs. Standing next to their beds, I sense their frustration when they want to ask questions about their health but can just not do so. One particular patient melted my heart as she tried to communicate with me. She is deaf, and discussion of her condition was very complex. She had many questions about her condition. Our medical team ran into a marsh of difficulties trying to convey complex medical terms. The patient’s oxygen mask and the staff’s medical masks made lip-reading difficult. Written communication was cryptic and unsatisfactory. The lady experienced considerable frustration to say the least.
Breakdowns in communication like these rob people of deep connection. It deprives us on a cognitive, emotional and spiritual level. When we don’t feel connected to the people we are partnering with, it could trigger a negative emotional spiral. Sporadically, we allow this spiral to bring in our own emotional baggage, our past hurts or the “voices” in our heads. We then head towards a gloomy emotional marsh where the truth becomes as clear as mud.
Just as our bodies cannot function without water, our souls cannot function without communication. We are designed for connection. And connection cannot happen without communication. Communication, therefore, is designed to help us connect.
How can we communicate in a godly manner?
We need so much grace to be able to communicate as God wants us to communicate. It is tough. In this world, none of us will get it 100% right. James 3:2 (NLT) says:
indeed we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
Yet, it is not optional if we want to follow Christ. James 1:26 says:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
So, where do we start? The Bible gives us a lot of instruction. I would like to highlight two things:
1. God is intentional with his design of communication
God is intentional with His communication design:
Reminding ourselves about God’s intent when He designed communication, will help us to put a higher value on what and how we communicate. My deduction from what I have learned in the Bible, is that God designed communication so that:
- we could get to know Him better;
- we could experience a deep connection with God, unbeknown to this World;
- we have a way to express our need for His presence and His help in our lives;
- we have a way to honour and praise him;
- we have a way of proclaiming the Gospel, letting the world know about His saving Grace;
- we have a way to bless others and mimic Christ’s love to the world.
The theme of communication is woven into every fibre of the Gospel story. Right from the beginning we see that God wants to connect and communicate with the crown of His creation.
The story of Adam and Eve reflects on what they have heard from God (Genesis 2:16-17) and later how God searched them out (Genesis 3:9). The rest of the Bible is saturated with stories of communication between God and people. Due to sin, the direct communication with God and man was broken down. But Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross bonded those communication lines again. Everyone who believes in Christ, receives the Holy Spirit as a comforter and advocate whilst we wait for Christ’s return (see John 14:16 and John 14:26). That means that, through the Holy Spirit, in prayer, we can live in connection with God continuously.
If you are a Christ-follower, there is assurance that He will never let the connection slip. Romans 8:38 gives us that assurance:
that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I know this does not speak about communication per se, but it does point to connection. Nothing in this world could skew the connection between God and us. If God says nothing can separate us from His love, it also implies nothing can separate us from being connected with Him. We can have God’s listening ear day and night. 1 Peter 3:13 says:
the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.
In Psalm 31:22 (HCSB) David says:
You heard the sound of my pleading when I cried to You for help”.
Being able to pray to God anywhere at anytime with anyone…. Have you ever evaluated this concept juxtaposed against our flawed human communication channels? He literally removed all possible barriers. No physical disability, human bias, technological errors or anything else could hinder us from our souls connecting with His in prayer. Seamless design.
2. We should be intentional with our communication
Proverbs 20:15 speaks indeed of
Wise speech (that) is rarer and more valuable than gold and rubies.
If we value wise communication for the treasure it is, we will invest in learning how to speak kinder, how to listen harder, how to instruct clearer. A few practical lessons I took from Scripture:
BE KIND AND FORGIVING
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
USE YOUR SPEECH TO ENCOURAGE AND BUILD OTHERS UP
“So encourage each other and build each other up, just you are already doing”. — 1 Thessalonians 5:11
USE TIME AND OPPORTUNITY DELIBERATELY TO BRING BLESSING WITH YOUR WORDS TO THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW CHRIST YET
“Walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” — Colossians 4:5
KEEP ON PRACTICING THE SELF-CONTROL SPIRITUAL MUSCLES
“The one who guards his mouth preserves his life, the one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” — Proverbs 13:3
Will we be able to change our communication habits?
I pray that God grants us that which Paul describes in Ephesians 3:16-19:
That according to the riches of his (Christ’s) glory he might grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that christ might dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with al the fullness of God
May you feel His presence. May you be encouraged by this blog and may God give you and me the wisdom and strength to bless people with our way of communicating.