As a parent of young adults I am finally learning the importance of choosing words carefully and timing them appropriately. You may think that this is not a lesson that is too difficult to learn, but I beg to differ with you. I have homeschooled my children throughout their elementary and middle school years (and actually have only one left at home in high school) and through these years I have reminded, scolded, posted, and sticky-noted assignments, chores, and schedules. I have repeated myself endless times – as all parents know to be necessary to get something across to children. When they were small, having them repeat the communication or look me in the eye was enough to ensure their acknowledgement.
But communication changes in the teen years. Young adults assume they already know what you are going to say before you say it and the glazed look or rolling of the eyes replace the younger simply distracted expression. At this point, whether they were accurate in their assumption or not, nothing that you say registers. All they hear is the same old, “Blah, blah, blah.” This is exasperating to the parent and even that response seems to be a welcome one to the teen. So what’s to be done?
I must pause to be fair to these growing adults. I do find my own attention drift, even now at 50, when my own parents remind me to make sure that I send a thank you note to a grandparent or to drive carefully. I have been sending thank you notes for forty-five years and I am not a reckless driver. So I wonder, how am I any different from my children? Or even my parents? I already find myself cautioning my three children to drive carefully and to turn off their cell phones when they leave the house with one of our vehicles – certainly something they’ve heard multiple times.
As I’ve stopped to consider this situation from a parent’s perspective, I’ve come to the following conclusion. As our control over the behavior of our children lessens (and to be honest, I am not sure that I have ever really had much control in that regard), we have only our words left to us when our fears for their safety or well-being threaten to overwhelm us. We cannot control the weather, drunken drivers, or the inattention of our children, when they are behind the wheel. So we remind, warn, threaten, plead with them in hopes of preventing the worst. I suppose our own parents repeat instructions for the same reason. Not because they fear that we might suffer from temporary memory loss, but because they love us and worry about us.
So back to the lesson I am learning, timing and choice of words. I have noticed that when I drop the repetitive warning or reminder and replace it with a few choice words from my heart, my children respond in a warm and accepting manner. Simply sharing what I hope to prevent or the fears that I have regarding their safety is met with smiles, hugs, and reassurance that they have taken my instruction to heart. What a joy it is to get these less-defensive replies.
Jesus was so good at just this wasn’t he? He did not go from town to town threatening and scolding – although he was not afraid to exhort when it was necessary – rather he chose specific and poignant ways to communicate significant truth. The response of the hearer was not something Jesus manipulated, he let the truth sink in. If his words were met with defensive self-righteousness, he gave warning as to what the consequences would be; but when the response was acknowledgement of the truth and recognition of a need for repentance, Jesus was quick to respond with mercy and grace.
If you are hearing with open ears with me right now, you will see that we have a lot to learn from Jesus in regard to speaking and listening.
In the book of Mark 4:23-25, Jesus says, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear… With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” What will your response be?