May 25, 2011

The Magnitude of Speaking Kindly

Someone once said that my parents wouldn't raise their voices to one another if the house was burning down.

It's true. I really don't think they would. I have never heard my mother and father fight. Earnestly disagree, yes. But they always managed to do so with words, tones of voice, and body language that still conveyed kindness.

Growing up, I didn't understand how drastically different my home was from others in this respect. I noticed that other moms snapped at their children in frustration awfully frequently. But I didn't realize that those moms were the norm and mine was the exception.

Sometime in my teens, I started to hear the difference in the way my dad spoke to my mom, compared to other men's tones with their wives.

Have you ever noticed how, when you overhear someone else answer the phone, you can usually tell who's on the other end just by the way the answerer speaks to them? Most of us have a very polite initial answering voice, which then changes slightly depending on who we discover we're speaking to. If it's a business acquaintance, the conversation generally continues in a soft, kind, "how can I help you?" tone of voice. If it's a friend we've been waiting to hear from, we progress into a louder, bubbly timbre for chit-chat. Unfortunately, if it's one of the people closest to us- our family- we often convert to a short, dull style of speaking that implies, "Get this over quickly and stop bothering me." (If you haven't noticed this phenomenon, eavesdrop a little the next time you're in the mall or at the office, and let me know what you find.)

When my dad gets a phone call from my mom, it doesn't matter what he's in the middle of. He might be in a desperate rush to get somewhere. He might be deep into an important theological conversation. He might be in a real predicament. No matter what's happening when his phone rings, you can always tell it's my mom on the other end of the line, just by listening to his tone of voice. He speaks to her more kindly than to anyone else. My dad's a loving, patient man. He always has a kind voice. But when it's my mom he's talking to, there is an extra measure of concern and sweetness in his words.

Not only do my parents set the example by speaking to one another lovingly, they also made sure that their children learned to do the same. My dad has never allowed us to get away with an inconsiderate word towards my mom. Likewise, she doesn't tolerate speech that disrespects him.

Isn't that how it should be? Those we claim to love the most should have that claim affirmed to them constantly, not only in phraseology, but also in tone of voice and even body language.

Yet I'm just now realizing that this is a rare thing I grew up with, assuming it was normal— this habit of speaking with utmost kindness within one's household.

Having parents who implied love with every word was an enormous source of security for me both then and now.

Most obviously, I was reminded that my parents loved and valued me every time they spoke to me. Even when I was being disciplined and their words were not pleasant to me, my parents spoke those words in a calm, gentle way that conveyed they were acting with my good in mind. Rarely did they use a tone of anger or frustration with my disobedience. (When hasty words were spoken in frustration, my mom or dad would soon apologize.)

Another benefit was that I knew my parents treasured one another. As a child, when friends' parents are divorcing and you are beginning to realize that everything in the world changes, affectionate words and a constant stream of mere kindness between mom and dad are like an anchor. I never once doubted my parents would stay together forever. Even if I'd been looking for it, I would have found nothing in their actions or speech that gave me room to question their love for each other.

I hope that my words and the tone with which they are spoken never allow my husband a single moment to doubt my love for him. I pray that someday our children are constantly reminded of our love for them and for each other by the kindness in our speech. (Incidentally, my husband is fabulous at this. I thank him almost every day for the loving way he speaks to me.)

When I'm in homes where kind words are not the norm, I feel awkward. I may only be visiting there for a short while, but I don't know how to respond in the midst of a family that criticizes, complains, mumbles, and snaps at one another. I leave wondering if they like each other at all.

So I want my home- my husband's and my place of retreat- to be different. I want it to be the uncommon sort of home like the one in which I grew up. I want to choose to speak to my husband with kindness, with love, with respect, no matter what.

No matter what. Back to the burning house idea— there is never an occasion to speak unkindly. Even under stress. Even in disaster. Even when the matter is urgent. None of those situations negate love, and none of them negate the importance of showing that love by speaking with kindness.

1 comment:

  1. I am THOROUGHLY challenged! The Lord has been dealing with me on this...things are vastly better...but after reading this...I see there is still a ways to go!