Pastor's Blog - Norm Byers
Communication adjustment

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

 

A few weeks back, I caught the last half of one of my favorite movies of all time, “Cool Hand Luke.” You have probably heard the famous line from the movie that is given for the first time in the film when the young prisoner, Luke (Paul Newman), escapes, and after being recaptured, mocks the prison captain. The prison captain lashes out striking Luke who then rolls down a small hill. Once the captain regains his composure, he utters in a southern drawl, “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.”


Failure to communicate is not uncommon in life! The other night, I was at a football game and I witnessed a communication miscue on the gridiron. As the kickoff went up into the air and sailed between the two kick returners, each thought the other was going to grab it. Consequently it landed on the ground with the opponents nearly recovering it! Sometimes in life we jump to the wrong conclusions and this can cause us great trouble. It was once said that “jumping to conclusions” is like playing with damp gunpowder: both are likely to go off in the wrong direction!


Maybe you know exactly what I am talking about as you have experienced a breakdown in communication. It could be that you assumed that a coworker was going to complete a task, and when it did not happen, relational tensions resulted in a blow up. Or perhaps you have felt hostility that escalated toward a spouse or significant other during a late night exchange. I know for myself that I have to fight against my tendency to jump to conclusions in my many and varied conversations.


There is hope, however.  Let me take you back to the football game. Fortunately, the returners that I mentioned realized what had happened and made an adjustment to pick the ball up and advance it. This represents the idea that we all can make changes in our communication patterns to lessen and even avoid failures.


What sort of modifications could we make in our communication to make our lives more harmonious? In the Bible, in James 1:19, we read,My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” A helpful adjustment that we can all make in our communication with others is to control the urge to jump to conclusions and to elevate listening for understanding.


First of all, in the passage above it says, “Be quick to listen.” We are instructed here in a sense to “hold our tongues” and to do the more difficult thing and “open our hearts and minds to listen.” Stephen Covey, in his famous book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” lists this idea as his number five habit: “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” What makes it so difficult to listen for understanding is the idea that many of us are listening to reply or even listening to refute. It is critical that we listen to grasp what those around us mean in their communication and also what they are feeling. Something cool happens when we know and feel that we have been understood.


Secondly, “slow to speak.” Now here is a danger, when we speak quickly and put off listening, we can start the “crazy cycle.” Sometimes a crazy cycle starts because what is appropriate to discuss at a given moment has not been thought out. Here is what it says in Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Trying to pare down what you want to say is wise and can save a lot of pain. Now an activity that does involve speaking that can help aid the listening process is the skill of asking questions. Taking the time to think through some insightful questions to help your significant others express what they are thinking and how they feel is a great way to use your tongue.


Thirdly, “slow to become angry.” Do not let anger or out of control emotion disrupt the listening process “because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” When hostility and strong feelings of annoyance enter into the communication process, it dissolves the empathy necessary to “listen for understanding.” In many cases, it is better to step back from the discussion and resume it once these negative feelings have subsided.


What about you? How is your communication? Are you willing to make some adjustments to communicate on a higher level with those you love, with those you come into contact with? Developing more fully your listening ear for understanding will be a big help to all your relationships.


Just think what would happen if each of us grabbed a hold of God’s way for communicating. It would change our families, our workplaces, and in many great ways, our whole community. And there would be a lot less “failure to communicate!”


 
Pass it on

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

 

My birthday is in the first part of February— usually a welcomed interruption from the mundane winter. In the early 1990s, I spent four birthdays near Cincinnati, Ohio where I attended a small college, and each year I shared a mailbox with another random student. I remember vividly one birthday going to my mailbox feeling a little down. I was having a bad day, week and semester. As I looked into my mail slot, I saw a stack of cards. Folks, these were not pieces of junk mail or college bills, these were of the Hallmark variety. So I turned them over not looking at the front and I counted them out the way a dealer counts out a hand…twelve of them! Yes, visions of twenty-dollar bills danced in my head. As I looked at who they were to, everyone was addressed to my box mate, Andrea. Ouch!!  It was her birthday, too.

 

Maybe you know what it feels like to be trivialized. Perhaps a boss undervalued you by passing you up for a promotion. Or it may have been that a significant other forgot a very special date. Whatever it may have been, the pain of feeling that you do not matter was unleashed on you and it was intense.

 

An important question in life to ask is what gives you value? At times, we are assigned value based on the name brands we wear, the music genre we listen to and whether we use a Mac or a PC. Particularly in our society, our vocation gives us a lot of worth. For example, in our culture, when we meet someone for the first time, it is not uncommon to ask, “What do you do?” It is easy to highly hold the productive person while marginalizing the one with low output. But is it right to assign value to someone based on purely external or extrinsic factors? Does someone have value if he is not able to be productive?


In the first section or book of the Bible, we find a very helpful passage, Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Human beings are the very centerpiece of God’s creation, and therefore, have intrinsic value. We are God’s idea and his creation. Our value is something that is built-in.


What about an extortionist or a traitor? Let’s say someone who is controlled by greed, do they matter? It is hard to imagine that someone who preys on the weak of society pressing their selfish agenda is entitled to any kind of high regard. Someone like this is an impediment to society, a cancer that needs to be repudiated and removed.


From the Bible, Matthew, son of Levi, was a tax collector and someone it would be easy to despise. His job for the Roman Empire involved obtaining money through threats and even force. By aligning himself with the ruthless Romans, he was viewed as a betrayer by his Jewish brothers. Avarice led to his enormous wealth. But he found a warm shoulder from Jesus Christ who befriended him.


And then, on a regular business day, Jesus extended an invitation to Matthew the sinner, “Come follow me.” The gospel of Matthew 9:9 informs us that Matthew got up, left his tax collector’s booth and followed Jesus. Later, Matthew invited Jesus to dinner at his house along with many other tax collectors and “sinners.” The religious rulers of that time, the Pharisees, scorned Jesus, questioning why he would spend time with these blights on society. Jesus answered, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…for I have not come to call the ‘righteous’ but sinners.”


This may be a fitting message for you today, and I encourage you to embrace the concept that you are loved by the Lord despite your weaknesses, your faults and shortcomings. Your value to him means that he extends to you the possibility of forgiveness, a way to be reconciled to him and even a fresh start.


Let’s take this concept and pass it forward. There is a great song from Brent Helming called “Jesus Lead On” that points us all in a great direction. The lyrics go like this, “Jesus lead on and I will follow, Jesus lead on, let your love light the way.”


 
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