When I go on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, all I see are people yelling at each other and name-calling. The veil of the internet is all that’s needed to tell someone they are an idiot and post a witty gif. Twice this week I saw people I know to be Christians call people names. Let me be clear, people do some pretty bad things and might really own that title, but calling someone a name without context just makes me question your content altogether. It erodes your credibility.
Perched on my high horse, I can easily see these problems. However, the reality is that I’m just as guilty as any would-be internet troll. While I don’t engage in super-critical and immature name-calling on the internet, I did something much worse.
I used to communicate this way to my spouse.
No, I didn’t call my wife bad names, but I used the same kind of immature hurtful language. In a marriage class, I learned that there are three types of words: knife, fork, and spoon words. The analogy works best if you imagine having to feed your spouse. The first two types are designed to cut and poke. The analogy is almost literal. Just like you’d dissect your Sunday dinner, you can cut your relationship until there is nothing left. However, the other utensil, “the spoon”, has many more uses and can be used to lift and cradle even liquids.
More important than simply understanding the difference between a type of communication is knowing why you communicate the way you do.
Let’s be clear upfront. There is a type of communication that is flat out abuse. Yelling obscenities and calling people names are not acceptable. It’s not a situation where you “work through it.” You need help now. As I write about communication and think back to the lesson of utensils, verbal abuse isn’t even a knife; it’s an atomic bomb. In our class, examples of knife words are “You’re just like your father/mother!” or “Can’t you do anything right?” While this could be part of an abusive vocabulary, the point is that if you are verbally abusive, you need to seek help now. You’re literally cursing the people you care about.
From my own personal experience, the reason we lash out is because of what’s on the inside.
Your Communication Reveals Your Condition
Early in my marriage, I was sarcastic. It was so bad that I even found part of my identity in this hurtful communication. The root word for sarcasm is “sarc” which means “to tear.” I was cutting everyone around me and calling it witty humor. The reality was that I was hurting inside. The words I used were a reflection of what was going on in my heart.
I had something deep in the treasury of my heart that had to be dealt with before I could really stop. I didn’t know who I was in Christ. I had head knowledge of Jesus but no relationship. It wasn’t until I truly surrendered my life to Christ that I had any chance.
Surrender The Treasury Of Your Heart To Move Toward Loving Communication
Before this surrender, it was as if the utensils of hurtful words were taped to my hands. I almost couldn’t help but to hurt those I loved. It was a never ending sabotage cycle. I’d lash out, hurt my spouse, then feel guilty and shameful. This only made made me feel worse. The problem was that I had a treasury full of bad things. Wounds, selfish thoughts and desires were stored up in the vault of my heart. Whenever I tried to love from that source, I gave what I had, which wasn’t good. Just like drinking water from a poor source will make you sick, the source from which I was trying to love was hurting everyone around me. What I found to be true is that if your heart is bad, you’ll never be able to love completely.
In order to start communicating with love, I had to empty out the vault of my heart. I had to accept the riches and glory of Jesus. This sounds like something you might hear a preacher say. It sounds really easy. Just surrender your life. Raise your hand. Say a prayer. Salvation is as easy as accepting His invitation to adoption. However, if you want to be like Jesus, then you have to accept His offer to heal your wounds and allow Him to perform open heart surgery.
This process required prayer and the help of a few mentors along the way. Saying yes to allowing God to change your heart doesn’t instantaneously make you perfect. Instead, it gives you the ability to love fully from a source of His love, His heart.
Loving Communication Comes From Using A Spoon
When I think of the most loving images I’ve ever seen, there are quite a few images that say “love” to me involving spoons. Each image is a major part of a season of life. The first image is of a parent feeding their baby with a spoon. Another image I’m reminded of is of a couple in love. Loving couples often feed each other. I don’t know if the image I found for this blog is of a couple or not, but it sure brought a smile to my face when I saw it. The last image I’m imagining is on the opposite end of the age spectrum. It’s of a person feeding an elderly loved one from a spoon.
With these images in mind, think about how careful the person feeding the other is. There is a measured amount of food in the spoon. The spoon itself is being carefully held. As the “feeder” continues, they learn how the other person eats and accepts the food. In addition, there’s a degree of trust from the eater. The person on the receiving end of the spoon is at complete mercy to the feeder.
This is how loving communication works. It requires thinking before speaking. It requires you to ask, “does this build up the other person?” It forces you to stop and consider your approach when confrontation is needed. All the while you have to remember that the person you are communicating with is completely helpless. When you speak to someone, they have no control over whether they hear you or not.
Words are meant to speak life over people. Even in correction, God loves us and deals with us in a loving way.
Loving communication isn’t the absence of conflict or accountability. It’s actually the opposite. It’s the loving response to correct someone that actually can build a relationship. However, the key is the approach. Approach with wholesome, spoon like communication and an attitude of love.
Loving Communication Requires Work
Loving communication won’t likely happen overnight. It’s a constant process. Like a muscle, you’ll have to exercise it over and over again. If you aren’t intentional, it’ll be easy to slip back into old habits of communication. What is great about communication is that if you pay attention to the words, you’ll begin to see what you’re reflecting. Your words don’t tell you that you are bad, they tell you that there are still wounds to be healed or things to surrender in your life.
The next time you think about saying something to someone, ask… “Is this wholesome? Will this encourage and lift up the person?”