Communication: with people and with God.

There is a fundamental difference between communication in relationships with people and with God. But I’ve noticed that I tend to approach God expecting the same difficulties as in human relationships.

Human relationships

It is common that the less able person is expected to make up the “communication gap”. For example, in a situation that frequently leads to miscommunication, people will ask what happened to cause the problem and why. But then say “can’t you just do X? Then I’ll know what’s going on and there won’t be a problem.” Generally I can’t just do X (maybe its explain something during a moment of overwhelm, or notice what someone else is doing if I’m absorbed in a task etc.) If I could there wouldn’t be a problem.

This isn’t usually done out of nastiness or ill will. People don’t know they are asking the impossible. They want to make things work and simply don’t know how else to proceed. The fact that they are interested and want to improve communication is fantastic. But, unfortunately, it can come across as “I can’t cope with your abnormality, please try to be normal and then we can get along fine.” This may be a false interpretation but it still makes me feel bad. Pre-diagnosis it made me feel solely responsible for the problem, and so led to unhealthy habits of trying too hard to manage or appear “normal”.

[If you are a neurotypical (“normal”) person, and you are ever in the situation of trying to understand someone with communication difficulties, keep asking questions and being interested, but please also explain how you experience the same things to help the person understand you better as well. Try working out together if there is something you can do to make up the communication gap, e.g. if they appear to ignore you try getting their attention a different way, or if they can’t talk just wait a little while, or if they seem rude check if that’s what they really meant. I’m sure none of that is easy to do, especially if you have an emotional reaction to the miscommunication, but it could go a long way to improve things.]

I know a few people who either through talent and intuition, or through hard work and asking lots of questions, do what they can to make up the communication gap. These people are a blessing. But in every human relationship (including between neurotypicals) even with the best efforts and intentions of everyone, communication will be imperfect and mistakes will happen.

Relationship with God

Between God and people there is an infinite communication gap, whether or not we have any specific difficulties. But He always makes up the gap.

God reaches out in love to every human being. He understands us perfectly, exactly as we are. He reveals Himself in ways we can understand. He gives everyone what they need to relate to Him through whatever means they can use.  He incorporates us into His constant Trinitarian communication; He lives within us and intercedes for us. He listens to us, understands us, speaks alongside us, and for us. But he doesn’t overwhelm or reduce us, in fact He makes us more complete, more fully who we are. Despite knowing this, I very often approach God expecting the same communication difficulties as in a human relationship. I expect difficulty and a degree of separation and so waste effort and anxiety on trying to find the right words. This focus on “getting it right” means I am more focused on myself than on God, and so creates an unnecessary barrier. It can be scary and difficult to believe God understands us perfectly, especially if one hasn’t much experience of being understood or taken seriously. It is challenging to just let Him love me, and to respond with love, trust, and obedience, asking Him everyday to help because I can’t do it on my own.

When I try to explain myself to a person I’m in control. It might be difficult and frustrating, but I am giving the information, and their feedback and behaviour indicate whether it is working. With God I’m not in control, and allowing that requires trust and humility. He knows me utterly, better than I know myself. I don’t need to “get it right” with God. I need to learn to trust instead. Trust that He knows, understands, accepts, and loves me more than I can imagine.

To me, used to difficult communication, the fact of God making up the communication gap feels like a big deal. But I wonder if it is to God? He is infinite, omniscient and perfect. We are not. Even the best human communicator must be extremely limited and clumsy before God. It makes me wonder if real communication with God relies on our verbal or language abilities at all. Certainly we can use them in prayer, but maybe they are just tools to facilitate something deeper or purer. I will explore this in a future series about prayer.

With God, miscommunication can only be one sided. I can fail to listen or refuse to listen, but He always perfectly understands me. By His grace, I can learn to listen more clearly. And one day, God willing, “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

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