“Healthy Relationships: Communication”

At Gateway Church in Austin we started our new series called “Healthy Relationships”

Relationships get complicated! Communication is the backbone of any lasting marriage, friendship, or close relationship. Intimacy is all about knowing and being known, but that requires healthy communication.

Message Discussion:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner,  life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Next Steps

Message Video from Gateway South Austin:

Message Notes from me and Carlos Ortiz:

So for this week, we’re going to dive into, “What does it look like to have healthy communication? 

What does this communication mean for us?  

What does it mean for others we interact with?  AND 

Why does healthy communication matter to God?”

So let’s start off by at the very least acknowledging the various types of communication:

Anne Converse Willkomm, Drexel University, Department Head of Graduate Studies says that there are actually 5 umbrellas of communication:

  1. Verbal communication

Verbal communication occurs when we engage in speaking with others. It can be face-to-face, over the telephone, via Skype or Zoom, etc. Some verbal engagements are informal, such as chatting with a friend over coffee or in the office kitchen, while others are more formal, such as a scheduled meeting. Regardless of the type, it is not just about the words, it is also about the caliber and complexity of those words, how we string those words together to create an overarching message, as well as the intonation (pitch, tone, cadence, etc.) used while speaking.

  1. Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication includes facial expressions, posture, eye contact, hand movements, and touch

ASL(American Sign Language) is made up of 18 handshapes. Where you place your hands and your hand’s orientation can also change the meaning. ASL also heavily relies on facial expressions, body shifts/movements and non-manual markers (language indicators not using your hands) Examples of non-manual markers are eye brows raising/lowering such as in asking questions or different mouth movements. That might look like pursed lips or even the wiggling of your tongue can indicate a far distance.

  1. Written Communication

Whether it is an email, a memo, a report, a Facebook post, a Tweet, a contract, etc. all forms of written communication have the same goal to disseminate information in a clear and concise manner – though that objective is often not achieved.

  1. Listening

The act of listening does not often make its way onto the list of types of communication. Active listening, however, is perhaps one of the most important types of communication because if we cannot listen to the person sitting across from us, we cannot effectively engage with them. 

  1. Visual Communication

We are a visual society, and the advent of streaming television and social media has magnified this truth. Think about it, televisions are running 24/7, Facebook is visual with memes, videos, images, etc., Instagram is an image-only platform, and advertisers use imagery to sell products and ideas. Think about from a personal perspective – the images we post on social media are meant to convey meaning – to communicate a message.

“We communicate continually throughout each and every day. We do it without thinking – we operate on communication autopilot. However, I encourage you to think about how you communicate. Understanding how you communicate is the first step to communicating more effectively.”

– Anne Converse Willkom

For the sake of time and clarity we’re going to tackle two of these umbrellas today, and the ones most clearly taught in scripture, Verbal Communication and Listening.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  James 1:19

If you’ve never heard us say this before, then hear this for the first time.  When we grow in our faith in Jesus, or our exploration of faith helps us to understand Jesus more, we inevitably come to understand and embrace that God sees a world that operates very differently than the way we as humans have cultivated it.  So when it comes to communication, we see that from this passage we are taught to lean into a very different approach to communicating.  

Quick to Listen

  • God models for us how to be listeners

Psalm 18:3-6 

I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of chaos overwhelmed me. The cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry for His help reached His ears.

I imagine God listening to us and interacting with us like a good father does…reminds me of this video that went viral:

DJ Pryor and his son went viral for this interaction. 

Here we are thinking we’re all grown up and engaging our father on a level that is equal to him, but we’re just speaking gibberish, and he’s gracious enough to continue the conversation because he delights in listening to us. It’s the same thing we see in this video, a dad just enjoying time with his child no matter if what they say doesn’t make sense.  His presence with us is comforting, and he finds joy with us. 

For many of us our view of God has been affected by our relationship with our parents. When I was a child, my Mom would always use the “if you don’t stop it, I will tell your Dad” in order to get me to behave.

I used to see God as easily angered and never happy with me.

My view of God changed as I really began to seek to know Him as a young adult.

As I came to understand how loving and grace-giving God truly was, I also began to give others more grace – including my Dad.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with my Dad over the years.

As a kid I experienced my Dad as grumpy, irritable, and prone to explode except when we were on vacation. Then he was fun and hilarious! My grandmother (his mother-in-law) would even refer to him as the white Bill Cosby which was a real compliment at the time.

When I was about 11, my Dad told me I was too old to give him hugs before bed so instead I shook his hand goodnight – even as he would still hug my younger brother good night.

My Dad got really mad at me when I grew my hair out long which if he had only known then what he knows now…. Had he known I would be bald by about age 26 he wouldn’t have been so against it.

My Dad was just being the kind of Dad that his Dad was except he was far kinder to me and my brother than his Dad was to him and his brother and sisters.

As I became a Dad and began to understand different personalities and love languages, I came to peace with my Dad. He expressed love differently than my Mom did. She was and is always very encouraging and positive whereas my Dad was far more quiet and would only seem to extravert his disappointment and his opinions which came across as commands. On the positive side, he was the one you could depend on to give you a ride in the middle of the night or to work hard all the time to provide for our family. He was an air traffic controller so he had an incredibly stressful job, so no wonder he was always on edge. If you and I mess up at work, we might frustrate a few people. If he messed up, hundreds of people could die. In many ways it was the perfect job for him as an opinionated and introvert. He was in the dark in a radar room on the radio telling people what to do.

For the past few years my Dad’s health has declined. It’s been hard to see him become so forgetful and even begin to struggle with things like shaving or clipping his toe nails. This weekend he was in the hospital after becoming too dehydrated so the past two mornings I have driven out to be with him and my Mom. They live out in Marble Falls. 

Seeing him so vulnerable is really hard, but even still I have seen glimpses of my Dad as I remember him. On Friday at the hospital, he was needing to go to the bathroom because he was strapped up to an IV. He wasn’t a big fan of the fact that the nurse needed to come and help him get to the bathroom since he had the IV and he’s now a fall risk. Even though he was self-conscious, as soon as he came out, he sarcastically proclaimed: “Ta-da!”

I discovered this phrase online which I think is really helpful in describing our relationship with God as it has been affected by our parents….

Religion says: “I messed up. Dad’s gonna kill me.”

Relationship with God says: “I messed up. I need to call Dad.”

I’ve had both those experiences with my Dad.

I’ve also viewed God in both of these ways.

How do you see God?

Do you turn to Him in the midst of crisis or in the midst of shame or regret?

Or do you turn away from Him?

Healthy communication requires a willingness to press through the discomfort to have the hard conversations – to listen even when you are anxious to do so and to speak what needs to be said even when you fear their response.

As we read the Scriptures, remember God models healthy communication. As Psalm 18 pointed out, we can be completely honest with God. He listens. He isn’t scared away by our emotions or our doubts. He listens and He responds with comfort and grace.

We also discover that listening puts the other person first.

  • Listening puts the other person first

Romans 12:9-10 

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

The ESV interprets it a little closer to the way I think it should be understood…

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.   

ESV of Romans 12:10

  • Listening removes unnecessary emotions
  • Gets us on the same page
  • Helps us not assume that we understand what the other person meant
  • Gives context to what someone actually said
  • Gives the other person room to verbally process and make adjustments

Now that we have spent the time being present, fully making the other person feel understood, now we move on to the second part of communication…verbal

All this is true when it comes to connecting with God through prayer and the Scriptures which is both talking and listening to God.

My wife Deborah and I are complete opposites in almost every way. We were quite young when we met at age 19. Opposites attract… at first. Opposites can also annoy each other.  

  1. I’m extroverted, and she’s introverted so when we are exhausted we regain energy in completely different ways. 
  2. I’m a thinker, and she’s a feeler so we make decisions differently. I make decisions based on what I think is most logical whereas she makes decisions based on how the decision affects people.
  3. I love to come to closure as soon as possible whereas as she likes to be more spontaneous and get more and more information before even making a decision. I have learned to be incredibly patient when we go to a restaurant. I’ve been tempted to pray before we order instead of when the meal arrives just so I can ask God to help her make a decision!

Even still, communication has grown from being the worst part of our marriage, to one of the strongest parts of our marriage.

We have had lots of miscommunication, drama, and hurt feelings. Once we had kids, it got even harder with their personalities now in the mix plus Deborah and I came into our marriage with different views on parenting. 

There have been lots of ups and downs, lots of trial and error, lots of spending time with counselors, lots of learning from mentors we’ve met at church in group together, lots of honest conversations with people who love us and have kept us accountable (including our parents), and lots of work doing Recovery here at Gateway.

We have discovered that as opposites, in many ways, together we form a good team that can see the world from different angles.

We have discovered that making things right is more important than being right.

It is important to spend time being present and make sure the other person feels fully understood.

Slow to Speak

Sometimes reading passages of scripture in full length helps us understand a point better than someone explaining it for us. So follow along as I read what James has to say about our speech.

James 3:1-12

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

There are 126 verses in the bible that refer to your tongue, and the range of building up and tearing down this little muscular organ can do.  Did you know the tongue is much more intricate than what most people realize?  It’s actually 8 muscles that work together to provide multiple functions: mastication, taste, swallowing, speech, and clearing the oral cavity 

So the tongue is a great metaphor for our verbal communication…it’s complicated.  We have to understand how complex communication is in order for us to best care for those around us.  Just like the tongue has multiple functions and is anatomically both an organ and a muscle, so our communication can take on various forms.  

Because of this complexity, it’s important to truly listen first, and then with prudence and right timing, choose the words that best set up our counterpart and us in the conversation. 

There are so many times we see Jesus get bombarded with questions, comments, theological quandaries, and he follows this pattern…he listens first…then he slowly responds.  And his response is so not what people want to hear, but it is the response warranted for the situation at hand. 

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all;  he has compassion on all he has made. – Psalms 145:8-9

Our slow response can take the sting out of a particular conversation, it can slow the rising tide of anger, it can disarm the other person from an emotional barrage of words that they cannot take back.  I know we are asking each of you to take the proverbial “high road” with your communication, but imagine if we all took that road, how loving and gracious our communication would be?

What if we could be a part of healing through our ability to communicate with a world that is hurting?  You may be in need of a listening ear, you may need to use less words and extend a listening ear…your response could literally change someone’s life. 

A few months back a pastor friend of mine asked if he could come to town and just glean from our church.  He wanted to wander the halls, attend some meetings, join us on a Sunday, and be inspired.  Before he left he told me this…”Wow…I could see why the world is talking about Austin!  But I hope you know, this is a lonely city.  I walked the streets and just had this aching sense that so many people here are lonely.”  

I have a question for us today…”Is anyone listening?” 

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