As parents, we naturally do a lot of talking, especially to our kids. However, as they get older, become teenagers, and grow into adulthood, for many of us, it seems like we don’t command the same attention as we did when they were younger. Especially if they’re involved in self-destructive activities – drugs and alcohol, self-injury, any addictive behaviors, an eating disorder; or if they struggle with a mental health issue or same-sex attraction.
Many of my attempted conversations with our daughter went south and the clash of two strong-willed individuals resounded throughout the house. Tempers rose, voices were raised and the only thing accomplished was an increasing distance between us.
As the high school years went by these incidences occurred more frequently. By her senior year things had escalated to the point where I think she was grounded most of the time.
I was frustrated, angry and confused. At a loss as to what I could say to get through to her, I wasn’t making any progress. I only wanted the best for her.
One day I praying about this mess. I was on my knees, complaining to God about my inability to talk to my daughter. I hoped I could change the destructive course she was bent on taking.
In the midst of my plea, I sensed God say something to me.
“Why are you talking to someone who isn’t listening to you? Talk to the One who is listening.”
Oh, what a powerful impression and provoking thought. My daughter wasn’t listening to me. That was clear. My countless attempts to speak more words, lecture, or tell her what I had already told her thousands of times before, were pushing her away.
I interpreted this message to mean a few things in our relationship:
First, it was time to open my ears and close my mouth. In the New Testament, the book of James says, “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” My pattern was exactly the opposite! I was quick to speak, quick to anger and slow to listen.
Telling her the same things for the thousandth time wasn’t working. Perhaps what she needed was the space and time to process all we tried to impart to her over the years. My behavior wasn’t helping draw us closer.
Second, God was always listening. It seemed simple and perhaps trite, but why wasn’t I praying more than lecturing my daughter? God was listening when I poured out my heart and was far more capable of producing positive change in my daughter than my words ever could.
Third, I needed to return to the right sequence of interpersonal communication; quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. It’s amazing what practicing this does for relationships.
When I give my full attention to what the other person is saying, not just their words, but their non-verbal communication as well, their feelings are validated. I’m really listening. Quite often, when I’m talking to Dena (my wife), and others, I’m thinking about how I’m going to respond before I’ve really heard them.
Our anger may be valid, but a quick temper hinders our conversations from making forward progress,weakening our attempts to build stronger relationships.
I didn’t practice these lessons with great consistency after my time of prayer that day, but I can testify that when I did, things began to change.
Sometimes I still forget and fall back into unproductive patterns. It was during a recent Hope for Hurting Parents support group when we were discussing the subject of anger that this came to my attention.
Are there people in your life who aren’t listening to you? Do they something besides more words from you? When was the last time you talked to the One who is listening? Can you trust Him with these important matters?
Let me encourage you to pour out your heart to God, then you can walk away with the assurance you have been completely heard. He is working out His good plans. You can rest in His promises.