“How can I help you?” “We don’t communicate well.” And that is how many counseling sessions begin. The truth of the matter is that they do not have a communication problem. Or to say it better, that is not their primary problem. Rarely does anyone have a communication problem as the central issue in the relationship.
You may want to read:
- A Note to Quiet People: It’s Time to Start Talking
- The Silent Treatment Is a Form of Sanitized Murder
- How to Respond When Someone Does Not Meet Your Expectations
Most people can talk. The issue is not, “I can’t talk.” The problem is nearly always, “I won’t talk.” Poor communication is a symptom of a deeper problem. If you have a communication problem, you will have to resolve the underlying heart issues that tempt a person to not talk with you.
Jesus tied tongue problems to the heart (Luke 6:45). His half-brother did similarly (James 4:1-3). James said that communication problems begin with sinful desires, cravings, and covetings. If you do not address the issue of communication at its source, your solutions will be mostly behavioral and superficial.
The Universal Mute
Everyone gets juiced about something. You pick the category: sports, hunting, farming, TV, shopping, politics, kids, family, movies, make-up, friends, physical fitness, or work. You can add to the list. Everybody has their favorite subject.
Only the mute cannot talk, which means he would be universally silent in every situation. There would be no subject that he could audibly talk about and no context in which he could speak.
But if the problem is a “won’t issue,” there is another option for the non-talker. The quiet person can repent; he can change. The good news for the person who is willfully choosing not to communicate is that he can find hope and help through Christ.
Communication is God-like
In Ephesians 5:1, Paul advises us to imitate God. Jehovah is a speaking God. When we first catch a glimpse of His activity in Genesis, He was speaking. He spoke throughout the Old Testament. In the New Testament, He sent his Son to speak to us.
After His Son left earth, He spoke through the written Word, and this is how He continues to engage us today (2 Timothy 3:16). God is a speaking God, and effectively communicating is one of the ways we can imitate Him. How are you imitating God in the area of communication?
When we choose to be quiet when talking is the right response, we are in defiance of our Creator. Imagine if God copped an attitude and said, “I know I can speak, but I’m not going to talk. I’m not going to give you my words, but choose to let you wonder what I’m thinking. We’re going to play a guessing game. Get used to it.”
A non-talking God would lead to chaos. We would not know Him or how to relate to Him. Our lives would turn into a chaotic mess because everyone would be doing what was right in their eyes (Judges 21:15).
Fortunately, God is a communicator. He is relentless in His communication. No one will be able to say, “I didn’t know. The Lord did not tell me.” (See Romans 1:20)
We are loved immeasurably by God. He cares for us as He carefully guides us by His Word (John 17:17). Our paths are not shaped by our culture, but by the sovereign hand of God as He lets us know how to live in His world. But if a person chooses not to talk, his relationships will be dysfunctional. For example,
- The quiet dad will not give his kids cheerful, hope-filled, practical, and constructive communication, and when they become teens, they will distance themselves from him.
- A harsh dad will have similar results. His children will cower before his brutish ways until they are old enough to find solace and encouragement in someone else who will love, affirm, and encourage them.
The choice of poor communication habits will create dysfunctional children who end up rebelling, rather than enjoying nurturing by the warm, encouraging, practical, and guiding hand of a redemptive speaking dad.
There can be many reasons why a passive person chooses not to talk or why a person decides to speak in an unkind way. Here are six of them.
Stubbornness – To be stubborn is self-centered unwillingness. This behavior is what we hope God will never do to us. It would be horrible for God to treat us in willful stubbornness. “Stubborn Christian” is a contradictory term.
One of the many ways a person can be stubborn with communication is by their refusal to say, “I’m sorry” or refuse to confess obvious sins or to pursue a spouse’s constructive observations.
Spouses know many things about their partners. What is known and could be shared is invaluable information. But if one spouse is stubborn in their communication and is not pursuing the other through humble question-asking, they would miss out on this means of sanctifying grace that God has brought through the other spouse.
Apathy – It is helpful to use bible language when thinking about categories. Apathy is not a sound bible category, though you can see this attitude in the personalities of the bible. A more biblically precise descriptor would be hatred.
An apathetic person is acting out what the bible would understand as hatred. Apathy is an “I don’t care” attitude, which is not a passive or neutral posture. It is an “active attitude” that follows the lines of hatred—a lack of love. If you don’t actively love me, you actively hate me, even if you want to dress it up by calling it apathy.
If my son was in a traffic accident and was dying by the roadside and I walked by and said, “I don’t care you are dying,” it would be hatred. Though not as physically damning as the illustration I just used, not to speak into someone else’s life is also a form of selfish hate.
Anger – This attitude of the heart is not as sanitized as apathy. It is hate acted out. I’m not speaking so much about the exaggerated versions of anger that you may understand as road rage, murder, or physical abuse, but about the softer forms of anger like silent treatment.
Anger is a “spectrum behavior.” On one end of the spectrum is physical murder, which is the worst-case scenario. Christians don’t kill people. But we can choose other forms of sinful anger. And one of those is called the silent treatment.
In one sense, they both accomplish a similar goal. Murder says, “You do not exist because I removed you from this world.” Silent treatment says, “You do not exist because I have removed you from my mind.” In both cases, there is a willful imposed silence.
As sophisticated Christians, we can live for years with this kind of “low-grade anger” of non-communication. We can even justify our anger because we are not acting like some of the people we hear about through the news.
“At least I have not killed anyone” can be our self-righteous retort. This response is a proud person who is hiding behind his quietness and justifying himself with false humility while harboring anger toward another person made in God’s image (James 3:9-10). Un-removed hostilities can kill a marriage.
Fear – This is typically a motivator that I cannot fully develop here, so I’ll take one angle on this potentially life-dominating sin. Fear is a code word for a person mired in self-absorbed thinking. A fearful person is not a trusting person.
A fearful person is more focused on their interests rather than God’s. God says, “Trust!” Jesus asked Peter to get out of the boat and walk on water with Him (Matthew 14:28). Peter, at the moment, was all about himself, wrapped up in fear. When he repented of his fear, he did get out of the boat and walked with God.
If he had decided to stay on the boat, twisting in paralyzing fear, he would have chosen the way of self rather than the way of God. Fear is a foundational sin that can manifest itself in many ways. One of those ways is a sinful desire not to experience exposure by communicating your thoughts to others.
A teen could be tempted to fear others by choosing not to stand according to her beliefs. A husband could be tempted to fear by not being vulnerable before his wife. In both cases, fear trumps gospel communication.
Ignorance – A person can be willfully ignorant of God and His ways even though he may be a Christian. It has not occurred to him how his lack of communication is hurting his family. The power of words or the lack of words never registers to him.
When his daughter, who has been waiting for ten years to experience love, nurture, affection, and care by his kind, loving, and wise words, becomes pregnant, he is clueless. He does not see how she waited and hoped until there was no more hope.
A young man came along and “swept her off her feet.” She was an angry teen looking for love, in large part because of a dad who was so into himself and ignorant of the damage he was causing due to his lack of words.
Similarly, a dad wakes up one day to a rebellious teen son who is full of anger and is now “shopping his affection” in video gaming, drugs, girls, sports, work or whatever he can find for a fraction of encouragement. He is reacting in anger toward his non-encouraging, harsh, or non-speaking dad.
Arrogance – The code word for this sin is self-righteousness, though all of the characteristics mentioned are born out of self-righteousness. This person looks down his nose toward others. He has a greater than attitude. There are certain people he doesn’t like.
He isolates himself from his culture. Many times it is a select group of people he chooses to hate. He loves thin, active people as opposed to obese people. He likes heterosexual people but harbors a disgust toward gay people. He prefers those who can engage in “deep talk,” but he resents shallow conversations.
His sin could be even more insidious as he withholds his loving and encouraging words from his family because of unresolved traces of bitterness. According to him, they have not changed to meet his preferences.
A Note to the Talker
- How is your heart right now?
- Are you tempted to think of someone you know who is like what I have described?
- Are you married to such a person?
- Did I describe your parent, friend, or other relationship?
If you are tempted to sin as you reflect on the non-talkers in your life, I want to remind you of the gospel. Christ came to save sinners, and you are one of those sinners that He came to save. You are no different from your non-talking friend.
Yes, your non-talking friend needs help, but you won’t be able to help if you are not guarding your heart. Your friend may not be meeting your expectations, but he is not the only one who put Christ on the cross.
It was because of your sin and mine that the God-haters nailed Christ to the tree. If I’m the worst sinner that I know, which I am, I can refocus at this moment and love my sinning friend in a way that Christ loved me (1 Timothy 1:15).
The best way to help a non-communicator is by communicating as God would talk to him. Find a way to share your heart with real and practical observations. This humble response is what God did to you. God’s Words began to penetrate your heart. In time your heart was opened to the gospel, and you began to change.
A Note to the Non-Talker
You will need to determine if you’re going to imitate God in this crucial area of your life. I’m not asking you to become a “talking head.” Going from non-talker to talker does not mean you are supposed to be the life of the party. I’m merely appealing to you to repent. You can talk. This choice you must make.
You will need to decide if the gospel will motivate you. Christ was your first missionary. He came to your dark place to change you, to make you better than what you were (Philippians 2:5-11).
He spoke the gospel into your life. If you refuse to talk, while calling yourself a Christian, you are mocking the very gospel that you claim to hold dear.
The gospel is about others. Communication is one way you can model the other-centeredness of the gospel in the lives of others. Communicating is not about what you can get out of the conversation, but about what you can invest in the conversation. Withholding your words is an act of unkindness.
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