>Usually the conversations with my children tend to be one-sided affairs. On the ride back home from daycare it is an impressionist stream of information strung together with “and then” without much concern for chronology or even basics of plot. The other type of one-sided conversation is usually carried on with my voice raised a level or two and it usually ends with “because I say so”.
Compare that type of one-sided conversation with the type of conversation I have with my wife. Ok, granted, there are times when our conversations are one-sided, but that is less common than not. We both try to be loving and try to communicate our feelings with and to each other.
The truth is that loving communication is never one way. Having unrequited love may be very romantic, but it is not love. To be able to express our love becomes a mutual striving, and sometimes I will do the translating and sometimes she will. Both of us together give and take. Sometimes I show my love in ways which are more meaningful to me, and she charitably accept it at face value. At other times I will go out of my way to do or say something that I know she likes even though it might not be something I particularly enjoy, like vacuuming the stairs.
But how often do we carry the best of this approach to conversation to our inner conversations? More often the words running in my head are a lot closer to an abusive version of childish conversations: non-stop chatter frequently punctuated by shouts of “because I say so”.
We seem to have focused most of our education on outward behaviors, but rarely are we given a chance to learn how to apply these same rules internally. I am a lot more polite and careful with my words when talking with other people, than I am when talking with myself.
It seems that while most of us learn, from an early age how to barter our way into getting something we want or need, we tend to either ignore or downright dislike having to deal with ourselves. We have thousands of years of teachings on rhetoric – going all the way back to ancient Greece. But, looking at the situation in the world these days it is striking how we seem to be incapable of actually convincing anyone of our points of view. We seem to be frequently shouting at each other, or at best, talking past each other without any of the hallmarks of true dialog. In short, it seems we have carried our methods of inner dialog out into the world, instead of letting the more polite forms of social conversation seep into our inner dialogs.
I would say that we do have some ways of retraining ourselves. The first method is prayer. I do not mean prayer by rote. I mean prayer that resembles a deep, heartfelt conversation. It is a way of opening our hearts so that we can let the Other come in and reason with us. It is about being truthful, and honest with God, and therefore with ourselves. For example, it is about letting our anger at injustice come out in angry words so that they do not fester into resentment in our hearts.
In classical rhetoric there are three types of arguments: logical arguments which appeal to the brain; ethical argument which appeal to our gut-feeling about a person, their honesty and trustworthiness; and sympathetic arguments which are arguments which tug at our heartstrings.
Prayer is much the same. Intellectual prayer is best exemplified by stopping at the end of the day and reviewing our actions and seeing where we lived up to your own expectations and where we can do better, without being judgmental and without being sentimental either. Ethical prayer would be where we remind ourselves of God’s unfailing love and mercy in our lives, and use that certainty to draw strength and courage during tough times. Finally sympathetic prayer is where we elevate our heartfelt needs up to God, and where we let God melt our hard hearts.
A few things to keep in mind to re-focus your Godly conversations: use every opportunity in the day to pray. Every little event is worthy of prayer, and every encounter can be deepened through blessing. Even when recalling the day past in a prayerful way, its focus should be what will I do next? It is future-focused, not because we are trying to escape the past and avoid the present, but because prayer will propel us into the future Kingdom.
Most importantly reward yourself for remembering to be prayerful. And reward those who talk with you by having a genuinely gentle way with words.