Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My "It's Not Like That Conversation"

              Image courtesy of tiramisustudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“A soft answer turns away wrath,
   but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)

I recently caught up with a close friend at church who I had been trying to meet with for a little while concerning a personal matter. It was June and both of us being fathers were caught up in the usual end of school crazy, him dealing with his three and one on the way, me with well, my one special boy. June is also a little crazier for each of us because there are two big events that we’re both regularly involved with at this time. My friend helps to run a week long sports camp for the kids in the community at our church, and I go off for a week to “Joni Camp,” as our family lovingly refers to our Joni and Friends Family Retreat.

When I had texted my friend a couple of weeks prior to seeing him, he said he didn’t have much time to connect because he was getting ready for the church camp, to which I replied yes we’ll be at our family retreat as well so I understand. When I finally did catch up with him, we had both completed our respective “camps” and he very excitedly shared a few the incredible ways God had worked in the lives a lot of the kids who attended. I then jumped in to try and relate some of the experiences that we had this year, which although being our 5th in a row, always had many surprises for us in the ways God worked in our lives and others as well. My friend, though a wonderful soul, does have a quick wit, and a sharp tongue. His response, although not intentionally harmful, was something along the lines of, “You mean all of the relaxation and fun you have, is that what gets you so emotional?” I was slightly taken aback. However, knowing my friend the way I do, and he knowing my family and I in the same way, I knew there was nothing truly meant by it.

I responded as generally as I could without getting too defensive. And I basically explained that a lot happens with families like mine on a deeply spiritual level, based on the amount of support and fellowship that we experience, some of which we may not get elsewhere. He acknowledged it, but since we were in the lobby of church at the beginning of service, the conversation ended there. While I wasn’t hurt, I was brought back to a realization that families like mine have all the time. My friend doesn’t know my family. He KNOWS my family, knows my son, knows our situation, but he just doesn’t know what family retreat means to us.  After all, how could I even begin to explain what really goes on there, it certainly is a lot more than a five-minute check in can explain. I just relegated it to the usual experience of “He doesn’t get it,” while I really wish I could’ve had the “It’s not like that” speech with him.

There are lots of reasons “It’s not like that” of course, but where do I begin? I could tell him about the anticipation that my son gets when we pull up the driveway at the retreat center, knowing after all these years where he is and the greeting he’ll get walking in the door. Maybe I follow up with the love and support we receive for a whole week from our “short term missionary” who spends the majority of each day with our son, and that means being with him in every sense...every activity, every meal, every worship time, every meal. Everything.

All of those things I mentioned are, however, fairly typical for what we experience there. In many ways I have perhaps, become used to such treatment, and so as incredible as all that is, it still doesn’t exactly communicate my feelings. Maybe, it was something more unique and special this year, like the annual Talent Show that’s held. The words of a certain female wheelchair user, prior to her performance, dedicated her song to another wheelchair using friend who had passed away, and who was a regular at the retreat. Maybe it was the words she used in her dedication, when she lovingly prayed for her friend, saying how she couldn’t wait to run with him in heaven. Maybe that’s it.

The next Sunday I saw my friend again, and we started chatting about a few things, eventually coming back around to our previous conversation about our camp experience, and he apologized for not quite understanding how important it was to us. I shared a little more with him, and his eyes widened and his attention perked up, it was then I saw he realized he was mistaken. I, of course, didn’t expect an apology, just a little understanding that our experience at family retreat is just like life. On the surface it may be smiles and fun, but there are things far deeper and profound going on, especially those the world may never see.

PRAY: Lord, thank you for the gift of your Word, which helps direct our minds and hearts in times of uncertainty and confusion. Help us to remember that we are “in the world”, and not “of the world”, and that when the opinions and judgements of others, even those we know and love, are hurtful or challenging, give us a heart of grace with which to forgive and allow them to see the other side of their statements. Let us have a soft word to those who confront us, so they may hear your voice and see your face always, Amen.

John Felageller


  1. Thank you. Yes, people don't get it, but sometimes I believe it is a barrier chosen to be put up, which takes time to break down. The soft words definitely work to break it down, but lots of times only God can do it if it happens at all.

  2. We love "Joni camp" too--highlight of our year--and I loved how you used this as an example and also were so gentle with your friend! Me sometimes? Not so much! Thanks for writing this!