“Fear of truth is the greatest hijacker of communication.”
Danny Silk (Keep Your Love On)
Communication that reaches the heart.
It is what my mom needs.
My kids and grand kids.
And my husband.
Honest. Authentic communication that connects at a heart level.
While I am very limited in what I can share with my mom, I can still connect with her heart. In fact it is the only means by which I can reach her. Influence her. Gain her trust. Everything else shuts her down. Alzheimer’s destroys the ability to reason but her feelings remain. “I listen to my heart,” she says to me each day. “And my heart wants home.“ “I understand mom,” I say. But I refrain from reminders, lectures and advice. When she feels understood, she is able to calm down. Then I am able to speak truth to her. And she is able to receive it.
Isn’t that how it is with our kids? The lessons they hear from us fall on deaf ears without a strong bridge of understanding formed from our heart to theirs. They best receive wisdom via a loving relationship. And they are willing to accept correction when they feel securely loved even in their mistakes.
It’s what Jesus offers us – and we in return must offer those we love.
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:7
Watching my mom decline not only causes me to ponder my days as a child, but also to regard my role today as a mother and grandmother. The importance of relationship is ever more clear to me, especially within family.
And the way we communicate with each other makes all the difference.
Thus, I wish to share part of my own story with you….
……how as a young child, I was the compliant, little girl who longed for others to like me; how as a teen I lost my way at times in trying to please others; and as a young married woman, pregnant with our third child, I completely shut down communication with my husband when I concluded in my heart that he would not love or accept the real me.
I was a people pleaser married to a logical analytic: trouble right from the beginning. Glen was raised by stern German parents who did many things right, but like all of us made some mistakes as well. His mom, a disciplined woman, never allowed herself to cry or show emotion. His father was stern; a critic and judge. Thus, Glen considered it prudent as the husband to point out my shortcomings and mistakes. Having been raised in such a manner, it was what he knew. Early in our marriage, I did not see or understand the pain that was buried in his heart. But I did know that his words pierced mine, a heart that had come to him already governed by fear. Fear of being rejected. Fear of failure. Fear of not being good enough. These fears escalated in the first years of our marriage. And my communication developed into one designed to keep hidden how I really felt inside.
I grew angry and cold towards Glen. He withdrew from me. Yet to others, I pretended that everything was OK. As children, neither of us learned how to understand our own emotions or feelings, let alone communicate them to others. I was the good girl who tried to please others by helping and serving them. Hiding behind masks that were acceptable, I hid the reality of my inner world and buried the resulting fear and shame that threatened to consume me during my adolescent years and early years of marriage.
So there we were at year six – barely communicating OR connecting emotionally with each other. I was pregnant with our third child and felt alone. Abandoned. And deeply discouraged. Glen began to work overtime and poured himself into others. I poured myself into our kids. Rather than working to form a close connection, our aim became to maintain a safe distance. We worked to reinforce the wall we had erected between us. We found ourselves on the opposite ends of a rope, in a tug-of-war; in a competition against each other rather than with each other. Thus what communication was left became defensive in nature; sharp daggers, painful criticism, and casting of blame.
Deep inside we each knew we were wrong. It was the constant, yet gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit and the fear of failing our own kids that caused us both to make some deliberate choices at that time in our lives.
Fast forward to today.
We still have distinctly different perspectives but our vision is united and we know how to utilize our individual strengths to work together. We are close. Connected. We communicate authentically most of the time. The downward spiral that our marriage was in, began to reverse directions when we both concluded that regardless of how we felt, we would purpose to learn the skills to foster a close connection rather than a safe distance. And we decided to become honest with each other about what was really going on in our hearts.
We began to learn how to communicate truthfully with connection in mind.
Authentic communication will built connection -whether there is agreement or not. If agreement is the goal of communication, what happens when we don’t truly agree with each other? One person loses. One wins. One is right. The other is wrong. In a marriage, this is a losing proposition for both.
The same is true for a parent and child caught up in a power struggle.
The goal of communication that leads to connection is understanding.
“I hear your heart and will try to understand how you feel.” That does not require or necessarily bring about agreement. But it establishes the path for authentic connection and promotes a heart willing to listen and change.
What are you modeling for your kids and training them to do: develop skills to communicate authentically and form close connections or are you teaching them to form and maintain a safe distance from you and from others?