“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” — Proverbs 16:24 NKJV In the last ten years tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts and tsunamis have resulted in great physical and social upheaval for millions of families around the world. Such upheaval is truly traumatic. But natural disasters aside, everyday throughout the world families are experiencing emotional earthquakes that leave them troubled, lonely, tearful and discouraged.
Our relationships in the family impact our interactions with one another, our fellowship with the Lord, and manifest weaknesses in our church gatherings. But there is hope. The Lord is able to heal broken hearts, broken homes and broken hopes: “Ah, LORD God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You” (Jer. 32:17).
One of the major causes of upheaval in the family is the breakdown in communication. Communication can be defined as “the transmitting of information, and necessitates a sender, a message, and a receiver.” It can build up or break down any relationship. Therefore I would like to suggest twelve guidelines to help build better relationships through improved communication.
1. Look directly into the person’s eyes.
Eye contact when communicating is very important because it reveals to the other person that you care, that you are interested in what is being said, that you are willing to give of your time, and that you have nothing to hide. “Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy” (Ps. 33:18). “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net” (Ps. 25:15).
2. Listen carefully to the message.
Careful listening leads to a more appropriate response: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). Letting the speaker communicate his/her whole message without being interrupted is a real sign of respect: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas. 1:19).
3. Avoid hasty responses.
It is so important that we are not hasty in our words, because anyone who flies off in a rage often makes a crash landing: “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil” (Prov. 15:28). “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Prov. 21:23).
4. Speak the truth lovingly.
We can speak the truth in such a way that we hurt rather than help the other person. Grace and truth go together. We can say the right thing in the wrong way. Sadly, this is often the case. “We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro … but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
5. Agree to disagree without quarreling.
It never pays to pick a quarrel even when it is ripe and it looks like we may win: “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Prov. 17:14). “It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel” (Prov. 20:3).
6. Avoid angry responses.
We should never allow anger to control us, because the word anger is only one letter short of the word danger. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29).
7. Willingly admit your mistakes.
Denial is one of the great stumbling blocks in healthy relationships. It is always therapeutic to admit and quit our wrongdoings: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jas. 5:16).
8. Avoid bringing up what has already been forgiven.
With reference to this it has often been said that one should never bury a dead dog with its tail sticking out of the grave. Forgiveness is not only the removal of the charge, but also the restoration of fellowship: “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9). “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (1 Pet. 4:8).
9. Don’t criticize even when you are criticized.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit even when we are criticized unjustly, we can look beyond the other person’s faults, recognize their needs, and commit them to the Lord: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you are called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8-9).
10. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
We should always give clear messages and take responsibility for what we say so that our actions are in harmony with our words. “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’ lest you fall into judgment” (Jas. 5:12).
11. Attack the problem, not the person.
In resolving conflict it is vital to identify the issue and explore the options in solving the problem. When the disciples questioned the Lord as to whether He cared that they were perishing in the storm, He first attacked the problem, as evidenced by His rebuking the storm, and then He addressed their fears (Mk. 4:35-41).
12. Communicate graciously, not jealously.
We should never be preoccupied with the weaknesses of others. Rather we should recognize their strengths and encourage them to overcome their weaknesses: “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).
If we diligently practice these twelve steps to better communication, at least three benefits will result: We will reduce the likelihood of family earthquakes. We will increase the effectiveness of family communications. And most importantly, others will begin to see more of Christ in us.
Emanuel Vivian John