The least liked and least told beauty of marriage is usually the reality of how God uses our spouses to point us places in our hearts, behaviours in our lives and attitudes in our minds that are dishonouring to Him. Yet some of these lessons themselves are God's way of making us better men and women, and also ways which we can understand how to make other relationships that are not romantic more meaningful.
Let me cut straight to the chase: from the moment we got married it quickly became apparent to me that if we were to ever communicate better and in a healthy way, I had to watch my tone when communicating with my wife. Look, I am a passionate guy. And in the heat of the moment, my tone can change in ways that are not helpful at all.
Why does this happen? Well, firstly and simply maybe because of my family and cultural background. See, what we never notice is that our languages and cultures have a "tone" which is acceptable. Everyone laughs about how we Shona people are loud and very passionate in our speech, and most of the times its just that: its just passion and expression at play without any regard of the recipient of the message. And for any real relationship to work, the message itself is not just enough - the means in which the message is presented matters too.
Its just after Sunday service at Bulawayo Baptist Church. When we are there, we always go to Tuckers to eat lunch with the brothers and sisters from there. Picture me there with some of my favourite people. Picture us talking about politics. About reformed theology. About injustices across the world. If what you see is a serene, cheesy time with friends, you have it wrong. It is usually not easy-going at all. My friends and I can be super draining when we talk about things that we love. With our chunky sounding Shona, with sprinkles of Ndebele accents, and hands thrown all over - it is all a lot of fun.
It is encountering my wife that has helped me remember that not everyone I know thinks or acts like Casper Mapurisa or Billman Dube. And this is a gift of God's grace! As hard as it is, for effective communication to take place, it will not only be the words I use, but my body language and especially the tone of voice is very important. But applied more broadly: you and I need to think more effectively about how we do or say something, and not just that we did it or said it.
As I thought about our conversations about tone those months ago, I saw the general application of this in gospel proclamation among believers, for example. A lot of how churches and ministries operate today has a lot to do with cultural and preferential biases. While the Scriptures tell us a lot of "whats" and "hows", there are plenty other things that take human agency to do. Think with me, for example, about the idea of preaching in the local church. When I turned over to Reformed circles and started watching sermons on YouTube and other places, I honestly struggled with the tone of voices in those sermons. I was coming from some "bring-the-fire-down" type of preaching within Word of Faith circles, and it took me a while to be used to the much slower pace, and sober tone of delivery some of the brothers I encountered use.
Now, with time, I really can handle and learn from this, and I do enjoy it. But it never came naturally. What honestly resonates with me at my core is preaching where the preacher sounds like its his very last time preaching. What really resonates with me is content that is presented in a tone of voice and body language that I understand the most. This is obviously not saying that one is better than the other, but that one end, we need to be aware that what is natural to us doesn't communicate naturally to others, and so we need to be cognitive of this and be dynamic in our communication.
Without a doubt, black preachers, who are broad-brushed as being loud and lacking content, and white preachers, who are broad brushed as being boring and too intellectually are both gifts that can shape and learn from each other when it comes to communication, not only from the pulpit, but in all other settings of church life. Both broad brushes are not true by the way. Of course, I use these very broad brushes here - but there is also a lot of homiletic considerations when one is preaching which includes the tone of the very passage itself, which a good preacher must stick with and be a herald of.
What is true in the pulpit is true on social media. The tones we use - knowingly or unknowingly communicate to those who we follow and who follow us. Again, it is not always what you are saying as much as it is about how you say it. As a point of illustration, a substantial number of social media users are worn out by the tone and volume of political posts that they encounter on these social platforms and view social media as an inherently angry and disrespectful medium in comparison to other venues for discussing politics. While on the other hand, some people view the back and forth online as a healthy way for communities to process things together - indeed, social media becomes a marketplace of ideas for them to share, debate and inquire about different political views. Both groups are valuable, and both groups are on our social media timelines. I have no idea how this plays our for you, but you have to be careful how you say things on there.
Lastly, those of us who use social media to share truths from the Bible should be equally careful that we don't use bad tone to communicate good news - what a contradiction! Many users of Facebook or Twitter for example view it as place where people say things they would never say in person, while a smaller share views these platforms as places where people are afraid to speak their minds for fear of criticism. So I personally try by all means to write things in a way that I would say them in person if I was with someone - easier said than done! But we have to chase that. When we disagree, when we debate - we can do it with much grace and a tone that considers the other, even when it comes naturally to us.
Philippians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Ephesians 4:2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
So my wife called me out on my tone, and that lesson has wider implications in life, and I hope you can learn to watch your tone of voice too. ;)