In 2010 a friend called me while I was walking through Target. He said he was going to write a book and wondered if I would be willing to edit it. As a Christian therapist, he had found a useful tool to use when communication had broken down in relationships; he felt led to share the tool with whoever would read it. It was going to be a free e-book. Would I be willing to sign on for this labor, knowing that my pay would be of the ‘eternal rewards’ kind?
I had met this man and his wife around 1994, I think. I remember the first time we went to their home, I had two toddlers. Shortly after that we joined a Monday night group in their home — a time of worship and prayer that included a half dozen or more people. It was our one night out each week. We hired a babysitter to come put our kids to bed so that we could have fellowship with these people who had previously been strangers to us.
These Monday nights were oxygen to us. We never missed. No matter what the circumstances, we got ourselves across town so that we could join others in singing, Scripture, and prayer. In addition, this man was a huge support to my husband, also a therapist at the time. He provided, at an embarrassingly reduced rate, counseling for both of us on several occasions. His wife taught our children piano lessons. When we went out of town, they let our golden retriever hang out with their golden retriever.
What I learned about this family between 1994 and 2010 was that they were God’s people. They were not perfect (come on, no one is) but they had humble spirits and ears that were open. Beyond that, they were willing to share with others what God placed on their hearts. Many times I heard the voice of God through them. Many times that voice provided healing.
So, would I be willing to read a whole book about an effective communication strategy that he had used in therapy to break down walls of resistance in relationships? Guys, he asked me this in 2010, the height of my butt-kicking/name-taking soldiering years. I was busy with three teenagers. I was teaching full-time. I was a pastor’s wife with tons of responsibility. Why in the world would I say yes to more?
But I did say yes. It was the summer. I had responsibilities, sure, but I did have a little bit of room. So, yes. Yes!
I might not have been willing, at the beginning, to admit that there were communication break-downs in our own family. And since the author and I lived three states apart, there was no way that he could have known that either. But as I engaged in the text, it became obvious that the first recipient of the free e-book would be me. As I read scenario after scenario I saw myself in the conversations-gone-wrong. I felt the emotions that the people in the book were expressing. I also saw where their listeners shut down.
As I read about the author’s strategy for ‘graphic word pictures’ I began to put my own emotions into words that I felt others in my life could grab onto. The ‘graphic word pictures’ were not accusations, but representations of my feelings. I practiced by writing one for my husband. Just one ‘graphic word picture’. We’d been having trouble communicating emotions for a while — it gets hard when you are in the trenches. Soldiers don’t often take the time to identify what they are feeling, let alone to appropriately communicate those feelings. Soldiers are busy surviving, deflecting attacks, patching up wounds, and running for cover.
But as I retreated from the front, pulled off the bandages, and examined the wound, I was able to clearly see the depth of the injury. Seeing the injury, I painted a word picture of it for my husband so that he could fully appreciate the depth of the gash, the amount of infection, and the need for antibiotics and rest. He didn’t respond defensively. He responded by helping me ice and elevate. He brought me a cool glass of water. He sat beside me while I healed.
Just because of some words.
I had the opportunity recently to talk to this friend again. I was struggling to communicate some emotions and had written a graphic word picture to try to express my pain. I emailed him and asked if he would read it to see if I was correctly utilizing the strategy. He read it, then asked me to call him. For an hour he allowed me to see not only the wound I had described — the one on the surface — but also the much deeper crippling wounds that I had been ignoring. He helped me pull back the protective layers of body armor so that I could see the severity of my injuries. He helped me describe them with words. As we did that work, I cried and cried. The wounds were real, but I had not been acknowledging them. I had ignored the pain and soldiered on.
Guys, I am turning from soldiering. I have no need to fight. I am a child of the King. He has provided for all of my needs. Who did I think I was battling, anyway? All this time I have been sitting in the palm of His hands.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?