Home Wreckers: Week Two - "Can You Hear Me Now?"
Today we are going to continue our sermon series, "Home Wreckers: Guarding Your Family God's Way."
The idea behind this sermon series is pretty simple: Families in our culture are facing a number of issues--any one of which could completely wreck them.
And Christian families are no different. In fact, studies have shown that Christian families are struggling at as high or higher rates as non-Christian families when it comes to these issues--namely: Busyness, Lack of Communication, Financial Troubles and Lack of Spiritual Depth.
So each week of this series we're going to tackle one of these home-wrecking issues as we learn how to guard our family God's way.
Today we're going to be talking about talking.
What I mean is, we're going to be tackling the issue of Communication, and more specifically how the right kind of communication can either make or break your family bonds. Here's our big idea for today--the one thing I want you to remember if you forget everything else.
Speak softly so your family can hear you better.
Communication in families is changing. There is an ever-increasing gap that grows wider with the advent of more and more forms of technology, social media applications and so on. It's becoming more and more difficult to bridge that gap as well. It sometimes feels like parents are woefully behind their children on the learning curve with all of this, with little or no hope of catching up.
Case in point: Here's a bunch of misses between parents and kids when it comes to texting.
Anyone else been there before--either as a parent or as a kid?
Some of us also have moments where we know that we've jumped the shark so to speak. Like that time when you were all the way downstairs and your son was all the way upstairs and you wanted him to take out the trash, so you texted him.
Or that time you called your kid on the phone to go turn off the lights in the living room because you were already in bed.
Yeah, you've been there. Don't deny it.
A recent Oxford study that I uncovered this week gave me some great insight into something called Family Communication Systems. The idea is that every family has a system of communication that is based on the stories that define that family--the way they see themselves.
Let me illustrate:
Let's say there's a couple named Heather and Ron. They have been married for twelve years and have three kids together. Suddenly one day, Ron informs Heather that he is leaving her and the kids. He unceremoniously moves out.
Heather's family surrounds her and the kids with love and support. They console her, encourage her and even pray for Ron, reaching out to him and encouraging him to return. Her parents tell her that whatever is happening with Ron is probably temporary and they expect he will return. Heather is heart-broken but filled with hope as she is supported in her grief.
Ron, on the other hand, is having the time of his life. He moves downtown to an apartment near his office and nex to all of the city's nightlife. He constantly posts on social media how much he is enjoying pursuing his dreams. Ron's parents encourage him to find himself, to do whatever he needs to do in order to make his dreams come true. They are sad about Heather and the kids, but they adjust.
This is an all-too-real scenario. But it reveals something about family communication systems and the stories that families tell about themselves.
Each family has a theme. For Heather, the theme is centered around the family. Her family sees success within the context of community. You find yourself in your family--that's where your strength is.
For Ron, the theme for his family was centered around individual achievement, and fulfillment. In Ron's family, you were always encouraged to pursue your individual dreams, even if it meant separation from the family.
In both contexts, families responded to a crisis in different ways.
So let me ask you a question: What kind of theme dominates your family story?
We have a saying in our family: Nagel-Bloder's don't quit. My kids are eternally grateful that we didn't hyphenate their names, I'm sure. But still, that's our saying, and I think it has affected the way we talk about ourselves, our stories and our communication theme.
But there's another side to this. I have had more than a few people ask me this question, "Do you think a family can be cursed?" They ask me this because they feel like they can't catch a break--tragedy, illness, addiction... you name it. The story they tell is that they are cursed for some reason, there is something wrong with them...
How do you make sure that your family theme is the right one?
It's a good thing for us that we have a guide to help us in Scripture. And each week of this series we'll be heading to the ancient Hebrew book of Proverbs for some wisdom to help us guard our family.
Today we're reading from Proverbs 15:1:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Let's spend some time breaking down this verse a bit so we can understand it speaks to family communication.
First, let's dig around a bit with these words because they have deeper meanings in Hebrew than they do in English.
For example, the word "soft" or "gentle" answer speaks not just to the words themselves. It's not exactly about what you say it's how you say it. And how you speak matters because this kind of soft answer is calming and healing for both the speaker and the hearer. It has the effect of soothing and healing both.
The Hebrew word for "turns away" is the word yashub, which means to restore, or give life back to. When you use healing, words... healing happens. Funny how that works, eh?
Now we get to the negative side of the proverb and the word "wrath" which literally means rage, or more specifically venom or poison like that of a spider. This is the kind of emotion that can eat you away on the inside. Healing words can soothe that kind of poisonous emotion.
But a "harsh" word or asab causes something altogether different. It creates pain, toil, work, hardship. This is the hard way, not the easy way.
And just like a soft word can bring healing to both speaker and hearer, a harsh word can bring pain and toil to both speaker and hearer. A harsh word reveals the anger and pain of the speaker and connects with the anger and pain of the hearer.
So what do does all of this mean for us as it relates to communication within our families?
If you want to ensure that the way you communicate as a family is life-giving, you may need to change the way you speak.
For all of us who need some practical application to all of this so we can make the changes we need, I have three things that you can do to change the way you speak, which I believe can also help you change the theme of your family communications, and maybe even your family story.
1. Speak the truth--in love. The Apostle Paul wrote the following in his letter to the Ephesians:
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
Isn't that awesome? Speak the truth in love. I've discovered that a lot of Christian-y people love this verse.
But here's the kicker. If a Christian-y person approaches you and says, "Hey man, I've just got to share something with you about you, and I'm going to speak the truth in love..." You can bet your bottom dollar that nine times out of ten whatever they are about to share with you almost definitely won't be spoken in love, and probably won't be the truth either.
Even when we are speaking the truth to others, most of us do seem to forget the love part, don't we? And when it comes to our family members---usually all bets are off when we get high and mighty about our truth that needs to be spoken. Love gets tossed out the window.
Here's the thing. If truth is spoken in love it will be life-giving. It will heal and not hurt. It might create loving boundaries, but it will do so gently and with care.
2. Speak in a "salty" way. Again we hear from the Apostle Paul--this time from his letter to the church at Colosse:
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
In addition to being a seasoning that made things taste better, salt was used more widely in the ancient world for purification and preservation than it is today. So Paul is saying here that the way you talk to one another needs to not only enhance the flavors of your relationship, it needs to purify the bonds between you, and preserve those bonds.
So the question that I have to ask here is. "Does your speech build up or tear down?" Does the way you talk to your family members preserve and protect your relationship, does it make it taste better? Or does the way you speak tear things apart and make them foul and distasteful.
In the context of the family---are you speaking to one another in a way that builds up a lively, vibrant, positive, forward-thinking family story? If not, then you may need some salt in your speech.
3. Speak "yes" and "no" and mean it. Jesus once told his followers:
All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
What Jesus was trying to teach his followers was simply that Double-talk undermines trust. If you want people to trust you, speak simply, don't over-promise and under-deliver, and let your "yes" mean "yes" and your "no" mean "no."
This is a vital part of healthy communication in a family. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don't give lip service to goodness and then pursue evil. Don't say that you love God when it's clear to everyone in your family that you don't love your neighbor... at all. Don't say that you will do this, thus and so, and as soon as something better comes along, this, thus and so gets kicked to the curb.
Because usually this, thus and so has a heart attached to it, and that heart typically belongs to your kids, or your spouse or a dear family member.
This is how you give a soft answer that turns away poisonous emotion. This is how you change the story of your family. This is how you learn good habits of communication that are based on life-giving themes.
Because when you speak softly, your family can hear you better.