The Central Effort of Love is Communication by John Powell and Loretta Brady
All the passages below are taken from John Powell and Loretta Brady’s book “Will the Real Me Please Stand Up?” published in 1985.
God has always been big on what is called “petitionary prayer.” Augustine once called petitionary prayer “our greatest strength and God’s greatest weakness.” The Lord assures us: “Ask and you will receive; knock and it will be opened to you. Whatever you ask in my name will be granted to you.”
In fact, I have often thought about God as being like an electrical outlet. Behind every outlet is the mysterious power of electricity. It can light a room, heat a home, show a movie, and so forth. However, the outlet is literally useless unless we get plugged in, connected to the source of power. The power of God, we are assured, is ready to enlighten our darkness, mend our brokenness, fill our emptiness, brace our courage, straighten our twistedness, and create in us hearts of love. The connection of all this power is prayer. The psalmist assures us: “The Lord is near to all who call upon him” (Psalm 145:18).
We need God’s help in many ways, but certainly we need God’s special help if we are to live lives of love. Paul instructs us to pray for all of God’s gifts, but especially to ask for the gift of love (1 Corinthians 12:31). It has been wisely said that love works for those who work at it. Love is not dropped from the heavens as a prefabricated, wrapped-in-cellophane gift. Love is a do-it-yourself kit that requires daily effort. And the central effort of love is communication. In a real sense love is communication. Both ask us to share generously with others the unique goodness and giftedness that is ours. Both ask us to receive gratefully the shared goodness of others. For this we clearly need God’s help.
To summarize briefly the demands of communication, please read over just the titles of the various guidelines proposed in these pages. Communication requires of us:
1. A firm commitment to sharing.
2. An attitude that sees ourselves and others as gifts to be given and received.
3. A relentless honesty with ourselves.
4. Acceptance of personal responsibility for our actions, reactions, and lives.
5. A humility that knows that we can tell only our personal truth, that we cannot claim to have the truth.
6. Emotional openness: an honest sharing of all our significant feelings.
7. A willingness to share our own vulnerability.
8. A heart that is grateful to others for their willingness to listen.
9. A gift of presence and availability to others.
10. Acceptance of others, wherever they are.
11. Listening to learn the inner consistency of others.
12. The knowledge that we cannot judge others.
13. A gift of empathic reactions to others who are different from ourselves.
14. The effort to understand not just the words but the meaning of others; to listen with head and with heart.
15. Our gift of independence to others by refusing to give advice or to make decisions for them.
16. The clear-sighted courage that overcomes all the blocks to good communication.
17. An explicit expression of thanks to those who have trusted us enough to share with us.
18. Faithfulness in spending “quality” or “special” time together.
19. Communicating through the sense of touch.
20. Stretching out of our comfort zones.
21. Admitting our failures and apologizing to those we have hurt.
22. Avoiding a buildup of physical tension and negative stress.
23. Dealing effectively and courageously with our communication crises.
24. Speaking and listening always and only out of love.
25. Consistently asking God to supply us with the enlightenment and courage we need.
You may stop holding your breath now. Quite a challenge, isn’t it? Most of us will have to unlearn old, destructive habits and acquire new life-giving habits of sharing. We will have to change, and change is always a little scary because we know what we’ve got and we can’t be sure about what we will get.
Alcoholics Anonymous has been by far the most effective means of recovering sobriety for millions of men and women who have become addicted to alcohol and other drugs. The heart of the program is summarized in “The Twelve Steps.” It is ironic that only the First Step mentions alcohol. The other eleven, directly or indirectly, refer to a “Power greater than ourselves” or “the God of our understanding.” It is presumptuous, I suppose, but I would like to suggest the Twelve Steps as a paradigm, or model, for those of us who want to be honest and open in our communication. (Please be patient with me, okay? Thanks.)
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
|The Twelve Steps of Non-communicators Anonymous|
|1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.||1. We admitted we were powerless and estranged from others in our lives. Our relationships had become unmanageable.|
|2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.||2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore to us true communication and relationships.|
|3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.||3. Made a decision to turn our will and our ability to communicate over to the care of God as we understood him.|
|4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.||4. Made a searching and honest inventory of our relationships and commitment to communication.|
|5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.||5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to one other human being the masks we have worn, the roles we have played, the lies we have lived.|
|6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.||6. Were entirely ready to have God remove our masks and roles, to restore us to honesty and openness in our communication.|
|7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.||7. Humbly asked God to remove our obstacles to communication.|
|8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.||8. Made a list of all persons whom we had hurt by withholding an honest sharing and a loving listening, and became willing to make amends to them all.|
|9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others||9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible by an honest apology and a request for forgiveness.|
|10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.||10. Continued to observe ourselves in the communication process, and when we failed in some way, we promptly admitted it.|
|11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.||11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for the enlightenment and courage to communicate openly and honestly, to know and to be known.|
|12. Having had a spiritual awakeningas the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.||12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to share with others the meaning and value of honest and open communication and to practice it in all our relationships.|
Finally, I would like to conclude our own sharing in this book with a type of prayer that has helped me very much. I would like you to try it. It requires that you go into a quiet place and practice whatever you know about the techniques of relaxation. Deep breathing, imagining holes in the bottom of your feet with a soft, cool breeze blowing up through them, repeatedly and rhythmically saying the word relax as a command to your mind and to your body. Please do whatever helps you the most.
After five or more minutes of relaxing, move into what is called “positive imagining.” On the screen of your imagination run a homemade movie of yourself as you would like to be. Because I tend to be a “Type A,” driven and intense, I imagine a peaceful person who seems to know what is important and what isn’t. Since my act is to be a helper and therefore to “have it all together,” I like to imagine my ideal self as someone who is utterly honest and who can laugh at himself. As you know there is an ancient Chinese proverb which reminds us: “Blessed is he who can laugh at himself. He shall never cease to be entertained.”
Of course, my ideal self is an incarnation of the guidelines presented in this book. He is utterly honest and open about himself. He tells it like it is. He assumes responsibility for all his emotions and behavior. He listens sensitively and empathically. He is generous in sharing his gift and he is grateful for the shared gift of others. He is demonstrative and he dares to step beyond his comfort zones. He is, in sharing and listening, an excellent communicator.
I have done this so often I have him memorized and would know him anywhere. Sometimes I feel like the little boy in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Great Stone Face.” You will remember that this boy throughout the days of his childhood admires a face he sees etched in stone high up on the side of a mountain. When he grows up, he finds that the face is his. He has become his ideal. At the end of my own “positive imagining,” an exercise that should be repeated regularly, I ask God to empower me to become all that I can be as a communicator. I ask the God of my understanding to let my ideal transform my reality. I want to be a generous sharer of God’s gifts and a grateful receiver of the gifts and goodness of others. “Create in me, 0 God, a loving and listening heart.”
Then in various moments of my life, when I am relating to and communicating with others, I observe myself in action, and I ask, “Is this the person I would like to be?” I sincerely hope that this will help you as much as it has helped me. For me it is almost like taking a truth serum or putting on a new pair of glasses with the right prescription for clear vision. I find the simple question, “Is this the person I would like to be?” a transforming question. It is impossible for me to ask that question and stay huddled in my comfort zone, to be petty or pouting, to show off or try to pass myself off as someone I know that I am not.
With this question I quietly ask God to help me become my ideal. I ask God to empower me to practice what I preach. Help me to be real. If I am not real, I am nothing. My life will only be a charade. I dread this thought, that death will come to me like the final curtain of a command performance. I will then wipe off my stage makeup, take off my costume, give back my lines to the author, while the audience continues to applaud me for being someone I never was. I know that when I come to die, God will look for scars, not medals. When I am dying, I want to remember the times when I was real and honest, when I shared myself in an open self-disclosure as an act of love. I want to remember the times when I gave to those who were hungry the food of my sharing, to those who were thirsty the drink of my listening and understanding, to those who were locked inside themselves the gentle, extended hands that said, “Come out. You will be safe with me.” I want to remember the times when I offered the healing gift of loving and caring to those who were sick.
It sure beats a charade. [207-215]