Not only do his new words get him things he wants, but Ethan now finds that he can communicate ideas with us. When he points at our dog, Stanley, and says, “Apa,” (his word for puppy, which he came up with after months of hearing us say, Awwww, puppy!) and I repeat back, “Puppy!” his eyes shine with excitement that he was understood.
As we’ve entered this new phase of communication, and we build a foundation for our future relationship, I’m realizing what a huge deal it is even for such a small child to be acknowledged and feel understood.
It is easy to assume that, since my toddler has far from a firm grasp on language, he is not communicating something worthy of my time. I do have important things to do, after all, and standing here trying to figure out what nonsensical half-word he’s so emphatically trying to get across may not be the smartest use of my time. After all, the basic things he knows how to communicate aren’t even needs… they are only wants.
Even if I have to reheat my dinner twelve times, my son will know that I respect him. He will know that he is far more important than anything on my To-Do List, and that, though I won’t always succeed, I will always do my very best to understand him. As he grows, he will learn that he is to respect me in return, and that my time is valuable, but he must always know that nothing is more valuable to me than him. I want to know his heart.
Because, after all, isn’t that what we all really want? To be understood and loved? I know I do. But to understand a person, it takes some real tuning in, whether they’re a toddler or a forty-something. Often, we can’t speak the thing we want to say exactly like we want it to be heard.. But an equally insurmountable problem is that we can’t even hear clearly the garbled mess coming out of the other person’s mouth.
We communicate through filters. Our experiences, relationships and views color the words that come out of our mouth in ways we don’t even realize. Our listeners have these same types of filters on their ears, which take our previously tainted words and warp them yet again before the listener’s brain even has a chance to register them. This warping and twisting can affect the message in any way imaginable.
Taking these filters into consideration, how do we even begin to have a real, honest relationship with another person? Can we completely rid ourselves of all prejudices and throw the filters out the window?
Our experiences help make us who we are. Even if you could make yourself a completely unbiased person (which, you can’t) you couldn’t expect anyone else to evolve like you had, and your message would still get garbled by their filter.
The solution is time and desire. It takes lots of time and desire(on both sides) for me to understand what Ethan is trying to communicate with me, and he doesn’t even really have a filter of his own yet. If you take the time to get to know a person’s heart, what they are really about, their passions, their pains, the ups and downs of their story on an intimate level… if you desire and decide to love a person, then you will be able to see that the communication is garbled because you know what’s in the person’s heart.
Maybe in this life we are unable to fully understand our brothers and sisters… maybe that is part of the beautiful mystery of life. There are always deeper depths to be searched out in our loved ones, so a relationship never needs fall stale.
But neither do we have to go through life feeling misunderstood. Psalm 139:13 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
And Jeremiah 1:5 says, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.”
There is One who understands us better than we understand ourselves. He knows our proudest moments, our dirtiest secrets, our deepest shames. He knows the how and why of every moment of my life, and somehow is still proud to call me His. Though my words may never accurately reflect my heart, I know that He knows my heart before I even say a word.
Now, if only He would come and translate for Ethan.