“Keep the line tight, you’re doing great,” my dad said as I was in the final steps of reeling in my first trophy Northern Pike. The setting was an annual family pilgrimage to Snowshoe Lake in Canada in early June. Little did I know that moment with my father and this enormous fish would become a significant life lesson.
To cement my status as a master angler and to secure my bragging rights back at camp, photographic evidence was required to support the “Big Fish” stories I planned to tell for years to come. After a proper staging for the photo, I noticed my prized catch was in an advanced state of suffocation. The concern on my dad’s face was motivation enough to get the fish back in the water quickly. The next few moments would be critical as I, with the help of my dad, tried to revive the fish.
The crucial step in the revival process is not to shock the fish as you move it slowly back-and-forth in the water allowing freshwater to flow over its’ gills. Once the fish has been resuscitated, it will swim away on its own. Helping my father get the fish into the water, I leaned over and followed my dad’s hand down to the pike’s tail to begin the reviving process. My focus was no longer on the victory of the catch but on the desperate need to preserve this beautiful creation.
After what seemed like a half hour, I began to worry we might fail. At that moment I noticed my dad was completely in the boat, no longer helping me revive the fish. He said, “Keep your grip tight, move slowly, you’re doing great."
Just as I looked back at the fish, it extricated itself from my grip with a spectacular tail kick and disappeared into the waters below. As I later reflected on this encounter, I discovered a valuable lesson that day which extends beyond fishing to include the manner in which I conduct myself in daily life. “Keep your grip tight” is advice not meant to hinder creativity or exploration, but is rather an exhortation to hold strong to what you believe and embrace what matters.
As a professor of communication I have the opportunity to engage with college students on a regular basis about what matters. In reflecting on my discussions and interactions with them, I have come to realize that in the state of our contemporary culture, it is more critical than ever to focus on how we use our abilities to communicate in a manner that effectively reflects the love of God to one another. However, this is a tall order in today’s society where so much focus is placed on the individual.
Through social media, our outlets of expression have increased significantly to the point where we can say anything...about anyone...at any time...without much accountability. Therefore, it is essential that we "keep our grip tight" on how we communicate with one another by not allowing sin to deteriorate our language and opportunities to connect and love our neighbor. In a time when tweets and status updates dominate the communication landscape, we must—as Christians—reclaim our interactions and demonstrate how we can love one another with our language. In order to take on this task we must take a moment to reflect, discern, and pursue.
Reflecting allows us to withstand falling prey to developing an egotistical bias. By actively recalling personal experiences we avoid the temptation to see ourselves as better than others. This process is not about dwelling on the past but rather grounding us in the fact that we are all sinful and must strive to be more Christ-like in every detail of our lives. Loving our neighbor with our language necessitates us to reflect so we may meet others where they are, come alongside them, and move forward together.
Discerning the beautiful—and at times messy—intricacies of each individual conversational partner allows us to be fully invested, going beyond the surface. Becoming fully invested is difficult in a busy world. Taking the time to be fully present with another means shutting off distractions, moving beyond self-absorption, and becoming aware of another’s reality. Often, we constantly engage in talking: there is no lack of interaction, but there is a lack of meaningful interaction.
Pursue meaningful dialogue, not meaningless discussions. In conversation, we have both the incredible opportunity and divine obligation to engage with another created being. Meaningful dialogue requires intentionality. How are you intentionally being present with your friends, neighbors, or coworkers? It takes effort. Without this effort you will experience the lamentable scourge of “small talk” which lacks the ability to truly impact another individual.
If we want to love our neighbor with our language we must be prepared to become exhausted and uncomfortable. We must develop the capacity to resist the temptation to comply with our society’s standards of meaningless communication.
Proverbs 18:4 informs us that a true friend speaks words of life giving water that are as refreshing as a bubbling brook. How can you speak healing words to others? The process begins by reflecting on who you are, discerning an individual’s unique characteristics, and pursuing meaningful dialogue in every interaction.
Where to Start
Make a list. What words qualify as “life giving water” to you? To others? It may be different for each individual because meaningful communication is authentic. Authenticity is complicated, but so are people. As we navigate the uncertain waters of human interaction together, I encourage you to “keep your grip tight” and allow words of life giving water to both flow from and revive your soul.