August 15, 1999
I want you to take a couple of moments and let the following phrases sink in: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, only what is helpful in building others up according to their needs so it may benefit those who listen.” “A word fitly spoken and in due season is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” “Everyone then should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” If you didn’t recognize them, I just quoted several verses from the Bible. Each verse is centered on today’s topic, communication. The Bible is a treatise on speaking and listening.
Husbands and wives, think back for a second, back to when you were dating—when everything, especially communication, was just flowing. It seemed so easy and effortless, didn’t it? Those triple-digit phone bills, those long walks, closing down restaurants. The moment the pastor pronounced you husband and wife, the moment he signed off on the marriage license, you expected communication to deepen. Didn’t you? You still expected those romantic phone calls. You still expected those long walks. You still expected closing down restaurants. But something changed, something you can’t quite put your finger on.
Conversation became a little tired, predictable, a little stale. Maybe you moved from taking long walks to short errands. Maybe you moved from closing down restaurants to using drive-through windows. Maybe you moved from those long, romantic phone conversations to voice-mail. I don’t know. Maybe you exchanged talking about your dreams, desires, plans, and promises for one- and two-word sound bites of doubt, criticisms, and realities. Maybe, just maybe, your communication—your talking and listening skills—aren’t quite what they used to be.
If that is you, you need today’s message. As I said last weekend, every single marriage can improve about 20% as a result of this series. If you have got a mind, a couple of ears, and a mouth, you can become a great communicator. It is interesting. Great marriages and bad marriages all face the same issue: communication. But what separates the great ones from the not-so-great ones is obvious. The great ones have husbands and wives who work at it, who tackle this task tenaciously. Those who have sorry marriages for some reason don’t work at communication. They throw their hands up in the air and say, “That is just the way it is.”
Last weekend I launched this series of talks called “4 Keeps – Keeping Creativity In Your Marriage.” We found out that marriages that really have it going on are made up of spouses who maintain a tireless MWE, a tireless marital work ethic. We also said that to carry forth a tireless marital work ethic, you need creativity. I defined marital creativity as innovative action for qualitative growth. No area in marriage needs innovative action, creativity, and work like communication. So goes communication, so goes conflict resolution. So goes communication, so goes sex. So goes communication, so goes intimacy and romance and so on.
I want to bring back a verse of scripture that I used to open today’s message. This text gives us several communicative options that are out there for the taking for husbands and wives. Let me push the pause button and say something to single adults. Hey, singles, this series is for you. Quite frankly, I meet too many of you who come to the altar ill-prepared and clueless as to what it takes to have a great marriage. Ninety-four percent of you will get married at least once. That is what research has revealed. Let’s say, for example, that you are part of the six percent who never get married. I bet you know a married person or two. You can give them counsel. You can give them direction. Also, this stuff will help your speaking and listening skills around the office, the apartment complex, at play, whatever.
Let’s look at the communicative options listed for us in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth….” That is our first option. Remember the word “unwholesome.” This past June I took one of my five-year-old twin daughters fishing. Her name is Landra. We had a wonderful time at a little pond catching perch. We caught probably ten or twelve. Landra, like most children, wanted to keep every single fish. Well, I return the fish I catch, but I told her that she could keep one to show to her mother. What I didn’t realize is that Landra is a little bit sneaky, and she took another fish and hid it in the tackle box. She had her fish in her hand and the other one in the tackle box. We drove home, and she showed the fish to her brother and sisters and mom. We took a photograph. Then I put the tackle box into the garage.
Let’s push the clock forward about ten days. Then let’s add some triple-degree Texas heat. Lisa looked at me one afternoon and said, “Honey, something has died in our garage. Something smells horrible.” Now I am not known for my great eyesight, but I can hear and smell incredibly well. “Lisa, don’t worry. I will smell it out.” So I began to smell. I walked into the garage. I began to think that it smelled like a dead fish, but I wondered how a dead fish could be in our garage. Then my nose led me to that corner where I have some fishing supplies. I opened up the tackle box. Whoa! The stench was horrific. Unbearable. It had seeped under the door and into the house. It was bad. It was really, really bad.
This past week as I was studying Ephesians 4:29, I looked up the original meaning for the word “unwholesome” and it is “spoiled fish.” Is that classic? I said thank you, God. Spoiled fish. Husbands and wives, we can spoil our spouse’s spirit with our words and by the way we listen to them. Have you ever been around a couple and just smelled the spoiled fish? You can sense that they have poison and gross stuff in their lives because of that unwholesome talk that has rolled off their tongues. They tear apart self-esteem. They put each other down. I am talking about unwholesome talk like, “You never…,” “You always…,” “Do you realize how fortunate you are to be married to me?” I am talking about unwholesome talk. I am talking about spoiled fish. That is a communicative option that we have.
Spouses, we wield such power with our words. They have such octane behind them. We don’t realize the damage they can do. Don’t spoil your spouse’s spirit. Don’t put dead fish in your spouse’s tackle box.
There is another option. It says, “Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.” We can either spoil our spouse’s spirit, or we can build and benefit them through positive communication. I should say to Lisa only what is helpful for building her up. “I admire you for that. You do that so well.” “No one else notices what you bring to the table, but believe me, I do, and I thank you for it.” There is nothing like being energized by your spouse.
Yeah, a co-worker can say something to you in a complimentary fashion. A friend can. But there is nothing like your spouse. And we can build our spouse up, and I like this next part, “according to their needs….” People who are great communicators work at it, and they learn and they discern the situation. They have appropriate responses, appropriate words, appropriate looks, appropriate nods for the situation.
The verse continues, “…that it may benefit those who listen.” In some translations it says that it may give grace to those who listen. In other words, my voice box can be a vehicle for the blessing and the grace giving of God. When I communicate words of love to Lisa, God can use my vocal cords to communicate His love to her, His understanding to her, His compassion to her, His encouragement to her. That is something, isn’t it? “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.”
I guess the question now that begs to be answered is “How?” How? “Yeah, Ed, I don’t want to spoil my spouse’s spirit. I know I have stepped over the line, I have thrown some perch his (or her) way, but I want to change, man. How do I change?” Well, I want to share with you several things that we can do to ramp up our learning curve, several practical steps that we can take that will build and benefit our spouse, that will help us implement innovative action for qualitative growth.
Now, before I go through some of these steps, one caveat. This is not Christianity “light.” What I am going to talk about is difficult. It is tough. It is work. But it is worth it. Here I communicate for a living, and I still have a long way to go in this department. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife. But I do want to share with you in an open, honest, and authentic way some struggles that I have gone through and some good things that we have done to help in communication. I think Lisa and I have great communication. Can we improve? Yes. And I am looking forward to the 20 percent deal after this series, and so is Lisa.
Let’s go to the first one. Take regular technology breaks. Take those regular and strategic technology breaks. Most of us are so wired in and hooked up and freaked out over technology that technology can encroach upon our marital communication. Case in point—earlier this year, Lisa and I were on a date night. Something, by the way, that I believe is not even optional for marriage teams. Anyway, I was in my truck and Lisa was on my right. And on this date night I had my cell phone glued to my ear. I was talking about work, talking about Fellowship Church. It was very, very important. Oh, big-time important. I had to talk. And after about 45 minutes of conversation, I could tell that I had messed up. I had allowed technology to take away some precious moments from Lisa. I had blown it. I had missed it. As I look back on that date night, I have no idea what I was talking about on my cell phone. No clue. But I do know I missed those moments of communication because I had allowed technology to rob me of that time.
It is paradoxical, isn’t it? We have all these things that enhance communication: e-mail, voice mail, beepers, cell phones. The list is limitless. Yet these very devices end up hurting, oftentimes, communication between a husband and wife. Here these devices are for communication, but they hurt communication. We have got to take regular technology breaks.
And here is what Lisa and I have done in our lives. Every night, every single night, we take what I call a phone fast. We don’t get up. We don’t make a move toward the phone. “Well, you have caller ID. Surely you check that.” No, we don’t. I discovered something awhile back. I own all of my phones. The phones don’t own me. I am not obliged to answer the phone when I don’t want to. We go through a phone fast of two to three hours when we spend time with our family; but also we spend time, just the two of us, talking. I have learned that you have to push a lot of stuff away just to get that time in. Are you too hooked up and wired in? Could technology be taking away from your communication?
The next one is something that I call the time-zone deal. If I am going to build and benefit my spouse, if I am going to become a great communicator as a spouse, I have got to respect their time zone. Respect their time zones. Have you noticed that opposites attract? Have you ever noticed that a night owl will hook up with a morning person? Here is what usually plays out. Let’s say, for example, that the husband is a PM person and the wife an AM person. Sometimes the husband will try to coerce and even shame his morning spouse into flying into his time zone. “Come to my time zone. That is when I am alert. That is when I am hitting on all cylinders.” That is wrong. I am naturally a night owl and Lisa is naturally a morning person. And here is what we have come to. We have established our own time zone. I go to bed earlier than I normally would and she goes to bed later than she normally would. We have our own time zone. We are alert. We are geared up. We are ready to communicate. How about it? Have you done some time zone work?
Well, the writer in the book of Proverbs hit this one right on the head. Proverbs 25:11, “A word fitly spoken and in due season…” or in the right time zone, “…is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Hey, wives, how would you like your husbands to give you jewelry every single day? Well, this verse says he can. He can give you verbal jewelry, if he communicates at the right time in your time zone.
Let’s go to another one. If we are going to build and benefit, we have to exit Busy Boulevard. Exit Busy Boulevard. And for those international travelers, we have got to lose the “Autobahn mentality.” How many of you have ever driven on the Autobahn over in Germany, that freeway system that has no speed limits? Wow, we have an international crowd, don’t we? Well, if you are local, it is just—exit off Busy Boulevard. Most of us are over-challenged, over-committed, and over-stimulated. We are shopping and soccering and recreating and traveling our way into oblivion at such a pace we are hydroplaning over the most important earthly relationship in the world, our relationship with our spouse. And while we are driving on Busy Boulevard or on the Autobahn, the conversation usually goes like this. “How was your day?” “Fine.” “What’s for dinner.” “I don’t know.” “What time is soccer practice?” “Six.” “I love you.” “I love you, too.”
We get into that deal, and we push the major things—those heartfelt conversations, those spiritual dialogues to the shoulder of the road. Then one day, during our annual moments of introspection, we look in the rear-view mirror and see wreck after wreck after wreck in our marriage and we wonder why. It is because we are doing life on Busy Boulevard.
Every time I talk about setting priorities and saying “no” to some things, people run up to me and thank me. They say they are glad the Bible is clear on that and that they intend to change. Most of these people, however, are right back on Busy Boulevard after a few weeks. We have got to fight. We have got to be tenacious about time. We have got to exit off Busy Boulevard if we want great communication.
Here is another one. We have to discover a mutually enjoyable activity. Discover a mutually enjoyable activity. Preferably this should revolve around recreation. I’m not talking about sex here. I woke a couple of people up on that one. We have got to discover a mutually desirable activity that preferably centers around recreation. “Well, we just don’t have anything in common any more. We just never talk.” Find something to do together that centers around recreation. It could be skiing. It could be kickboxing. It could be power walking. It could be jogging. Lisa and I jog a lot together. I am faster than Lisa, though. I can smoke her in a race, embarrass her. But I don’t. You know why? I have discovered over the months that we have run together that I would rather jog slower and communicate faster than jog faster and communicate slower. It makes us talk. It makes us think about issues. It makes us converse. It makes us listen.
Wives, you won’t believe this. You can look at your husband for just a second. You know what one of his biggest needs happens to be? Recreational companionship. Now I am not saying that you should spend two days in a deer blind or move to a marina on Joe Pool Lake. I am not saying that. I am saying to find something that you enjoy together.
We can build and benefit our spouse in another way and it will get quiet when I talk about this. But I gave you a warning. Remember, husbands and wives the “216 Principle.” Remember the “216 Principle.”
Lisa and I have four children, and we love them dearly. We would give our lives for our children; they are gifts from God. Recently, though, I was doing some math, and I discovered that we are only going to have each child about 216 months from birth until 18 years. Then they are off to college and on their own. Well, 216 months pales in comparison to a lifetime. I am not married to my children. I am married to Lisa. And my marriage to her is more important than my relationship with my kids. A lot of us have that mixed up and out of focus. Children let their needs be known rapidly. “Oh, I skinned my knee.” “I got cut from the volleyball team.” These are 9-1-1 situations. We have to help them and love them and pat them on the back and counsel them. But parents run into trouble when they begin to revolve everything in their lives around their children. They neglect their marriage, neglect their communication, neglect intimacy and romance. And one day they wake up after 216 months and say, “Who in the world are you?”
That’s why I say to make sure you have the time at least twice a month to go out with your spouse. Just the two of you. “Well, Ed, you don’t understand my schedule, man. The athletic events of my children, their school stuff….” Hey, if that is your life, it is too busy. Exit Busy Boulevard. Lose the Autobahn mentality. I am all for extra-curricular activities, but, parents, don’t freak out over them. You have got to keep your marriage a top priority. If you don’t, one day you will look in that rear-view mirror and wonder what went wrong.
I have talked to couples who have infants and children in preschool. They say that they would love to go out but that their children cry when they leave and don’t like babysitters. I understand where they are coming from. I remember when our children were infants and preschoolers. Even now sometimes when Lisa and I leave to go out on a date they kind of moan and cry. But let me tell you what it teaches them, parents, when we walk out the door and go somewhere. It teaches them that Mommy and Daddy leave. It also teaches them that Mommy and Daddy have something happening that is vital. Finally, it teaches them that Mommy and Daddy will come back. It is much better to allow your preschooler or infant or child to cry a little bit than for you to spend a lifetime of remorse because you neglected your relationship with your spouse. Put into practice the “216 Principle.”
After the twins were a month old, our pediatrician asked if we had gone out on a date yet. She asked if we had spent time together, just the two of us. Great words, and I believe, biblical words. People often ask me what is the secret of my great marriage. Granted we have a connection with Christ. But after that I would say one of the key ingredients would be the time we spend together and specifically, the date night. And I fight for it, but it is worth it.
Another way to benefit our marriages and have great communication is to have an RC. Have an RC. I am not talking about RC Cola. I used to work with a gentleman about a decade ago by the name of R.C. Smith. R.C. was a great guy, a very encouraging person. He would come to my office regularly and every time he would talk, he would smile. He would ask how I was and then tell me that he appreciated me. He thanked me for all the work I did and for the opportunity for us to work together. I would respond that the feeling is mutual. He did it almost every day.
One afternoon when we were talking, I asked him how he could explain his great marriage. I asked him what were some of the reasons for that. And, by the way, it is helpful for young couples to have older couples whose marriages are based on Christ to confide in and to learn from. He said that he and his wife, Charlotte, practiced the Sweet 16 every day when he comes home. When I asked for elaboration, he said that they look at each other for 16 minutes, and take turns talking and listening. Sweet 16—pretty strong advice. Get away from technology. It could be any time of the day.
At this point, some of the wives are saying, “Oh, I like that.” Now some of the husbands just don’t get that. Guys, let me put it in our vernacular. Most of us watch sports interviews, don’t we? We see or hear the TV personality thrust a microphone into an athlete’s face and ask them a question. Then they ask several follow-up questions. Husbands, don’t think about the Sweet 16, interview your spouse. Come home and ask her how was her day. Then ask her several follow-up questions. Don’t just act like you are listening. Dive into her world. Put yourself in her shoes.
Women communicate differently than men, have you noticed that? First, women talk about their feelings and then the facts. But, guys, you have got to ask enough questions to get past the feelings to the facts so you can connect. Identify with what she is saying. Make eye contact. The Bible says that the eyes are the windows of our souls. Watch your body language. Summarize mentally what is being said, and then give it back so you can know that you have connected. All of those things are huge in communication. Now wives, you know that guys communicate first with the facts. After you wade through all of the facts you can get to the feelings. That is just the way it is. So, wives, do the Sweet 16 and husbands, the interview.
Let me go now to James 1:19, “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” I learned this week that 7% of communication is with words, 38% with tone, and 55% with facial expressions. You can give your spouse spoiled perch by your looks. You know, the eye roll, various facial expressions, obvious body language.
When you are listening, you drive the conversation. The listener does, not the talker. But when you are talking, don’t enter what I refer to as the “moan zone.” Too many couples just whine to each other. Wow, after a steady diet of that, you can smell the spoiled fish. We can share the tough things, but let’s share some good stuff. Let’s build and benefit each other.
There is another suggestion I have. Give a reason-free gift now and then. Or you could say, write a reason-free note. You won’t believe what this will do. I just happened to have with me some reason-free gifts. Ten days ago, Lisa, during her busy schedule, walked into our church bookstore and purchased this devotional guide just for me. It is a book written by a professional fisherman, Jimmy Houston, entitled “Hooked For Life.” She did it for no reason, just because she loves me. The reason I like it so much is that I can learn about fishing and the Bible all in one. It is perfect for me. That meant a lot.
This one is a great one. The husband of some good friends bought a reason-free gift for his wife, a coffee mug which reads “I Love You.” This guy is a neat freak. He gets up at 6:30 and gets dressed. Before everybody gets up, he wipes down both cars every morning. He usually makes the coffee and then he puts this mug on the table for his wife to have just as soon as she gets up. Here is some candy, another reason-free gift. Here are some flowers. Think about what could happen.
And think about notes. You can write reason-free notes, and they communicate volumes. That is why every year we take a staff retreat. We spend a lot of time praying and vision casting. On one of the staff retreats, Pastor Owen Goff, who is approaching 60, opened up his suitcase and eight love notes fell out of his suitcase from his wife, Beverly. Oh, did we give him trouble. Eight love notes, and we were only going to be gone for four days. Reason-free notes. It is interesting to go through the Bible and see how God has communicated to us in different ways using different methodologies and using different gifts.
You may be thinking this advice is all good but what happens when the feelings get frosty? What happens when conversation becomes combustible? What happens when tempers flare? What happens when you have the argument going on? Well, that subject is so important that I will spend an entire weekend on it in our next session. Don’t miss it because each segment builds on the next. But I promise you, ladies and gentlemen, you can become great communicators. You can do it. So go out there and implement creative communication. Your marriage and your life will never be the same.