FAMILY COMMUNICATION: A TOOL FOR HEALTHY FAMILY LIFE
by V. Rev. Jason DelVitto
IT BECOMES INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT FOR US AS ORTHODOX FAMILIES TO GATHER TOGETHER, TO COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER AND TO CELEBRATE EACH OTHER'S PRESENCE FACE TO FACE.
The Feast Day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ celebrates the incarnation of the Word of God, the very presence of God among his people and the whole creation. The focal point of the icon for the Feast of the Nativity is the gathering of the created order around the mystery of the Incarnate Word of God; the entire cosmos sings of the redemption of humanity "… for God is with us." Indeed, the day following the Nativity of Our Lord, known as the Synaxis of the Theotokos, invites us to gather our hearts and attention around the one who gave birth to our Saviour, the Most Holy Mother of God. The act of gathering, or rather being gathered together by God, is an act or theme which runs throughout the entire history of God's people from the book of Genesis through Revelation. The central reality expressed through these gatherings is that of God assembling his people so that his Word may be heard and, through his Word, his presence made known and celebrated. Our God is a God who communicates with his creation, who reveals himself to us so that we may commune with him, share in His life and His very being. The gathering or assembly, whether it be for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy or the gathering of the members of the family in the home as part of our daily living, is an act which can serve as the forum for communication and union among its members, a community in the true sense of the word. We humans are communal beings and we gather in order to remember and celebrate who we are and to whom we belong. The community of the Church and of the "domestic church" as family is the very gift of God through which our person-hood, created in the image of God, can be nurtured and loved. This love can be expressed through a variety of ways; one of those ways is through healthy communication.
One of the greatest gifts that family living can impart to all of its members is the gift of healthy communication. Communication among family members, especially when we gather for various reasons in the home, can provide an opportunity for an exchange of ideas and concerns and can reinforce the unique identity of each of the family members as being radically unique and loved. The various forms and means by which a family might communicate are unique to each family. A number of books, written by family therapists, sociologists, etc., provide families with the tools and models for the creation and implementation of effective communication systems within the family. A common theme which can be found among these authors is that good communication skills are essential to the wellbeing of the family system and its members. Through healthy communication patterns family members are able to speak and be heard, thus expressing and sharing the gift of their personhood and their radical uniqueness before God and their fellow humans. It is the healthy family who fosters a spirit of freedom of expression among its members. Our Lord constantly communicates with us, many times in the mystery of silence, and He invites us to communicate with him, openly and freely. God wants to be heard and we hope that God will hear our prayers, hear our voice and acknowledge our presence. The Orthodox Christian family is a family within which each of its members is not only acknowledged but celebrated in thanksgiving to God. There is a mutual acknowledgement, a free-flowing dialogue between God and his people, a real communication ultimately leading to communion. Spouses want the other spouse to hear them, parents want their children to hear them and children want to be heard. For when we are able to speak and be heard, our being is acknowledged, affirmed and shared. Humans possess the innate capacity and desire to speak and to be heard. Our family gatherings and the every day dynamic of family living ought to provide an atmosphere for such self-expression and revelation.
A few guidelines for healthy communication might be the following: First of all, there ought to exist among family members a sense of mutual respect. Mutual respect allows each member of the family to acknowledge each other as a unique and precious member of the family community. Parents especially have the responsibility of maintaining and fostering an atmosphere of respect within the family. Secondly, family members should be encouraged to express themselves freely and responsibly and what they wish to communicate should be respected and valued by the other family members even if there is disagreement. Thirdly, the family community ought to be a place which provides loving support for open dialogue among its members through frequent and close personal contact. Each family must find its own way to healthy communication; you may want to check your local BOOKS for books on family communication.
While healthy and effective communication is desirable for all families, one of the difficulties that families face in our society today is the lack of communication among people as a whole. Creating and maintaining communication skills within families can prove quite challenging, especially in today's social climate. In his book, The DeVoicing of Society: Why We Don 't Talk to Each Other (Simon and Schuster, 1998), author John L. Locke maintains that the technological age within which we live is causing us to have less and less personal contact with each other, and that the human voice itself as an expression of the personal presence of another human is being drowned out by electronic technology. How many times a day do we find ourselves communicating with an electronic voice? While it may appear on the surface that, with all of the technological advances within the field of communication, we are growing closer to each other, Locke maintains just the opposite is taking place. Because of such things as E-mail, faxes, answering machines, etc., intimate personal contact, prolonged friendly conversations, mutual exchange of ideas and the sharing of life among many people of our society is dramatically on the decline. Our family communities are also affected by this decline. In the midst of such a decline of communication, it becomes increasingly important for us as Orthodox families to gather together as frequently as possible, to communicate with each other and to celebrate each other's presence face to face. In order for our own families to maintain our identities as members of the family of God, the Divine Liturgy, the unique and wonderful gathering of God's people, is given to us by God as the gathering through which every family and all of creation finds its true life and home, resting in God Incarnate for our sake.
Fr. Jason DelVitto is pastor of St. George, Bridgeville, Pa.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America