Communicating through the craziness

Our families are the center of our universe. Family is there when no one else is around. Family supports us, helps us, loves us. Family DRIVES US CRAZY!

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In “Building Family Strengths: Communications,” Brenda Thames and Deborah Thomason define family communication as “more than just the exchange of words between family members.” It is not just the words we speak but also “components like facial expressions, body language, tone of speech and posture.” Family communication, then, is sharing information with verbal and nonverbal cues. Thames and Thomason maintain that listening is as important as communication because listening allows you to understand the family member’s point of view.  Rick Peterson and Stephen Green, maintains that family communication can be divided into two areas, Instrumental and Affective. Instrumental communication is the “exchange of factual information that enables individuals to fulfill common family functions,” such as telling your children what time dinner is served. Affective communication “refers to how family members share their emotions” such as anger or happiness with one another. Some family members might successfully communicate in one area but not the other.

But poor communication is a hallmark of a dysfunctional family. Communication may be strained, ineffective, or nonexistent. Family members may have difficulty communicating their wants and needs to other members, which can result in misunderstandings and little self-expression.

What could poor communication look like?  We communicate poorly when we dismiss, ignore, or talk over the other person.  This style of communication says that the other person is not important.  Triangulation – we don’t talk directly to the family member and instead use someone as an intermediary.  You are not really permitted to share your thoughts but expected to keep your opinions to yourself.  There’s rarely any hope of resolving problems; things are swept under the rug.

Remember you and your family are made in the image of God.  The first family – Adam and Eve – were “naked and not ashamed.”  They were transparent with each other and with God.  Communication pattern would have been good; open, honest.  The moment humanity chose to do things their own way – immediately communication broke down.  They hid from each other and God.  Relationships were challenged.  But as disciples of Jesus – especially in our families; we have the opportunity to live like God intended in relationships and a big piece of living this way is practicing communication habits that honor God and reveal our new life in Jesus.  The way you communicate with your family will be a significant way that God can bring his grace.

Last week I told you I wanted us to have fun with these very serious topics, so what do you think of this?  There was a man who lived up in upstate New York and he was getting tired of the cold weather, so he decided to go to Florida. His wife was on a business trip at the time so he called her to let her know what he was doing and to tell her not to go back to New York but to meet him in Florida.

When he arrived he sent her an e-mail to let her know he was there, but he got a few letters wrong in the address and instead of going to his wife the e-mail went to a little old lady in Iowa, who was a pastor’s wife. And whose husband had died the day before.

The little old lady turned on her computer – read the e-mail, screamed and fainted right on the spot. Her family and friends who were there came in saw her on the floor – and when they read the screen they understood why she fainted..

Ø Dearest darling just wanted you to know I arrived safely
Ø Looking forward to you being with me, tomorrow
Ø Signed, your husband – PS, it sure is hot down here…

Communication is what we say and what we hear – so it’s got to be clear.

How about the man who was struggling to get his washing machine through the front door of his home as his neighbor was walking past.  The neighbor stopped and asked if he could help.  The man breathed a sigh of relief and said, “That would be great.  I’ll get it from the inside and you get it from the outside.  We should be able to handle this quickly.”

But after five minutes of continual struggle, they were both exhausted.  Wiping the sweat from his brow, the neighbor said, “This thing is bigger than it looks.  I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get it into your house.”  “Into my house?  I’m trying to get it out of my house!”

Rather than fighting against each other let’s see what the Bible says about helpful communication.  The family we’re  going to study today is found in the OT book of Esther.  I don’t know how familiar you are with this story so let me give you some background.  The book begins with a six month celebration that King Xerxes holds to show off all the good things he has.  As a finale to the celebration the king summons Queen Vashti to appear in all of her regale to display her beauty and show off the king’s glory.  Vashti snubs the king’s request.  Because he’s already a little unstable, the king’s masculinity is challenged.  So he basically fires her from the position of queen.

Once Xerxes gets over his tantrum, he decides to look for a new queen. Eventually he manages to choose Esther.  She’s beautiful; he was attracted to her; she had the character and strength of a queen.  And so Xerxes made Esther queen of Persia.

But here’s Esther’s back story that Xerxes doesn’t know yet.  She’s Jewish.  She isn’t Persian.  Esther was an orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai.  When she hears the king is looking for a new queen, she jumps in line.  She is well liked by the people and eventually with the king himself and becomes queen.

While all this is happening, Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill the king.  He alerts Esther and she warns the king in time.

But there’s more craziness.  There is treachery.  When Mordecai refuses to bow down to the evil counselor, Haman; Haman engineers a plot to murder all the Jews in the Persian empire.  The plot basically involves Haman going to the king and saying, “I think we should kill all the Jews in the Persian empire.”  And the king says, “Alright!”

Haman walks away glad the king has agreed to his plans for genocide.  The king doesn’t know that his new wife is Jewish.  Esther has been keeping it secret.  But the threat of their imminent demise kicks Esther and Mordecai into action.  Esther fasts for three days before visiting the king and alerting him to what is about to happen.

Esther is worried herself that the king will execute her for visiting unannounced – but he’s pleased to see her.  He offers her whatever she wants. She asks to have a banquet for her and Haman the next day.  Meanwhile, Haman is excited about the massacre that’s about to happen and he builds a huge pole on which to impale Mordecai.

But his hopes are dashed the following morning, when the king, remembering how Mordecai saved his life – orders Haman to honor Mordecai and throw him a parade through the town (which Haman reluctantly does).  At the second banquet, Esther asks the king to punish Haman for trying to kill her and her people – and the king does.  Haman is killed on the same pole he built for Mordecai.  Ironic.  The Jews of Persia massacre all of Haman’s supporters, Mordecai is made the kings new counselor and Purim becomes an official Jewish holiday to celebrate.  Good times, gang!  There’s craziness in every family system.

I tell you that story of Esther so that we can understand some Biblical concepts of healthy communication that can be beneficial in every family system.  What we see is healthy communication habits occur between Esther and Xerxes.  Watch for the healthy that happens in the crazy.

Before we get to communication, I want to set this up by looking at Esther 4:14.  “If you remain silent, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”  For such a time as this – very quoted portion of Esther.  The point was that Esther needed to communicate – to speak up – to save her family.  So much is at stake in how we communicate.  Your family may be at stake.  For some of you – if you don’t start communicating better now, you may not have a family left.  If you keep doing what you’ve been doing you will get what you always get.  What needs to be better about communication in your family?  It may be time for you to relearn communication strategy that is life-giving.

When it comes to communicating through the craziness, Position yourself.   Read 5:1.  Positioning yourself means getting ready for communication.  Sometimes it’s going to mean believing you are valuable and have something to say.  This is very important if you are in a family system in which you are not valued as a person; always put down; never taken seriously.  A first step in helpful communication is believing that you are valuable and that what you say matters.

But more so, are you thinking and praying about what you need to communicate?  Esther herself, was in a difficult place.  She had to be sure that she was intentional and concise.  She had a game plan.  She owned what she wanted to say.  She is not caught off guard.  If you want to change the way your family communicates it may come down to you and your plan for change.  This is an important place to lead.  Position yourself.

Second, Be Clear.  Ask for what you want.  Be assertive.  When I do marriage counseling, this is always the step that is most uncomfortable.  Many of us aren’t accustomed to have permission to ask for what we really want.  I usually have families write a wish list of the things they want from their spouse or family.  It’s hard to be assertive. Often we want to apologize for the things we really want in a relationship.  Being assertive means that I will have the ability to express feelings and ask for what I want in this relationship.

You might think it’s selfish.  But how many of you live day to day feeling like your family relationships could be better if only…And you never ask for that one thing that could make it better.  I need you to put your phone down and look me in the eyes when we’re talking; I need you to call when you are running late; I need you to speak encouraging words to me; I need you to touch me…If you don’t clearly ask for that which would be helpful to you in your relationship, you probably won’t get it.  Your family cannot read your mind!

Esther has positioned herself with Xerxes and when the opportunity comes she is intentional, assertive and concise.  Not just once but multiple times throughout the story.  “If it pleases the king, let the king together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”  Specific.

Now remember.  Just because you ask doesn’t always mean your family can give you what you need.  But the significance is in taking the courage to ask and in being heard.

In fact this is the last fill in today.  Listen Attentively.  Communication is a two-way event.  You talk and you listen.  Ideally the asking and listening happens in an environment where you and your family member are sitting down, facing each other and fully engaged.

Notice Xerxes action and response:  “What is it?  What is your request?”  He is attentive.  He is interested.  He’s looking at her. He isn’t interrupting.  Studies show that a person will interrupt someone else, on average, after 17 seconds.  When we listen attentively, we are not interrupting.  We’re letting our family member say everything they need.  We pay attention not only to what they are saying but also to non-verbal communication.  And then we respond.  And when we respond we should be able to tell them exactly what we heard them say.  This takes work.  We’re usually not used to this level of communication.

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.  In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.  You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.

Communication within the family is extremely important because it enables members to express their needs, wants, and concerns to each other. Open and honest communication creates an atmosphere that allows family members to express their differences as well as love and admiration for one another. It is through communication that family members are able to resolve the unavoidable problems that arise in all families.