Thursday, October 17, 2013

Listening between the lines (guest post by Sarah Quezada)

I'm honored and excited today to have my friend Sarah Quezada guest posting here at the Stanley Clan. Sarah and I both live and love our neighbors in South Atlanta, and her beautiful little family is an encouragement to us. Not to mention that she's pretty awesome at speaking Truth, and loving others, and making me laugh (all very important things). Sarah blogs at A Life With Subtitles where she tells her story of living out a cross-cultural marriage, trying to raise a bilingual daughter, navigating the tricky immigration system, and celebrating beautiful life in urban communities. Y'all make her welcome here, and be sure to visit her blog too.
Listening has never been as simple as the words.

One of my favorite things about college and singlehood was analyzing boy-communications with my girlfriends. There were forwarded emails… What do you think he meant by that? Replayed voicemail messages… See how he paused right there? And my favorite… Reenact it for us!

We were basically a drama troupe of awkward boy-girl interactions. It was amazing.

But one thing we knew, whether totally true or exaggerated, was that the words were only one piece of the communication puzzle and the rest had to be unearthed. We needed to read between the lines.

After all, haven’t we all heard that statistic that gives a heavy majority of communication to body language anyway? Listening has never been as simple as the words.

My husband speaks English as his second language. His English is superb, but every now and then I rely on my translation filter. It understands what he meant rather than exactly what he said.

For example, I know “he has four years” is not a description of prison time but a direct translation from Spanish to English meaning “he’s four years old.” Or one time, while hanging picture frames, he handed me three nails and a hammer with the instructions, “Go kill yourself.” Hmmm… I’m going to assume you mean, “Knock yourself out!”

I read between the lines. I know what he meant. All those years of analyzing boy-words has proven useful.

Sometimes (not always) I extend this grace when we are fighting. When the words are flying, hot and fast and furious. Even in my anger, I know he came to battle armed with a second language.

When he may say something that feels extraordinarily hurtful, I side with benefit of the doubt. I’m going to assume you didn’t really mean what you just said and blow right past it.

I wonder occasionally how much this practiced habit of grace in conversation has benefited our marriage. I also wonder what could come if I incorporated this filter in all of my listening.

I was recently challenged to “trust the best” of others. This charge has stuck with me.

What if, in listening, I didn’t search the words for the hurt I already feel? What if I wasn’t looking for ways to be offended… maybe not intentionally, but a bad habit practiced too often?

Perhaps instead, I could choose to focus on the heart I already know that loves me and wants good things for me and our relationship. Even if what is currently being said is truly hurtful, perhaps I can extend grace and give greater weight to what I already know is true of the heart of the speaker.

How would this shift in my listening affect my relationships? What if, instead of only words, I listened to the heart, to our history, to the truth I know about you?

I should add a caveat that I’m not referring to abusive or unhealthy relationships where we should ignore what’s really happening. I’m talking about an extra dollop of grace extended to our loved ones when words fail to convey our true intent.

After all, listening has never been as simple as the words.

What about you? Are you a generally graceful listener? Or do you struggle to trust the best even in those you love?
Find Sarah on Twitter, Facebook, and at her blog (A Life with Subtitles).


  1. Thanks for posting this today! I definitely could do a better job of extending grace to others and giving them the benefit of the doubt. I love hearing from another Atlantan, too. I'm in Louisville now but my a big chunk of my heart will always be rooted in my hometown.

    1. I dont know why that's so hard sometimes, especially since I expect others to extend me grace and the benefit of the doubt - haha :-)

    2. Hi Laura! I'm from the Lexington area and living in Atlanta now. Gotta love I-75! :) Thanks for your response. Giving others the benefit of the doubt is something I'm constantly trying to figure out how to do. Thanks for your response!

  2. ooh, the joys of listening in marriage and with two languages! I know it well : ) I like the idea of listening for the best -- in marriage, in relationships, in life! Thanks Sarah, for this post!

    1. Thanks, Michelle. It is certainly an experiment in listening!

  3. Yes! This is so important, but something I struggle with far too often. Thanks for the encouragement to listen to the heart, not just the words.


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