This August, my family gathered with over fifty other families from our church at Camp Berea on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire for a long weekend filled with teaching and fellowship. Tired and near the end of a summer full of day camps, activities, vacations and expectations, the parents present shared amongst each other that we were eager to eke through these last weeks and jump into new routines for the academic year ahead.
This was my fourth visit to Camp Berea in the past year. Our family attended our church’s first summer getaway in August 2018. I attended the women’s retreat there last September, and my daughter and I attended the mother/daughter retreat this past May. I thought of myself as a bit of a retreat expert by this point. Still, this weekend revealed what each had already showed me: I still have a lot to learn.
The teaching during this retreat was a continuation of the Home Tones theme that our family and marriage pastor began during our winter getaway in January of this year. On each of the five days at camp, we gathered together for worship, singing the theme song (written by our pastor) for Home Tones, with lyrics taken from this verse:
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” Colossians 3:16 (NLT)
During each of the three main teaching sessions, three of our church’s pastors gave talks on how we could work to create a better tone in our homes. We thought about the musical concepts of melody, harmony and jazz improvisation, in order to reflect on what we love about our family’s tones, how our personalities complement each other, and how to love each other well when things don’t go according to plan. In the mornings, we reflected individually and as couples and in small groups during our segregated adult time. Our children were taken through a parallel curriculum on their level by a huge team of enthusiastic high school and college students. In the afternoons, thrown together again for long stretches of family time, we had plenty of opportunities to put our ideas into practice.
When we considered what we wanted to change, I suggested we try to limit interruptions. A good friend once explained that in conversation, there’s “talking” and “listening”...and then there’s “just waiting to talk”. We talked about how good listening involves thinking about what the other person is saying. We talked about using a non-verbal cue to get someone’s attention and waiting to speak until that person is ready and available to listen.
In our house of six, there are five people who have a lot to say. We have, among us, only one reliable listener (it’s not me). If I had to take a random guess, I wonder if the world is divided in similar proportions. We live with a steady stream of distractions and interruptions. Many of us just want to be heard and will demand the floor at any cost, even alienating those we want to speak with. In our house, I can be asked four times what we are having for dinner...by four people who are standing in the same room as me. And yet, I can be likewise guilty of not listening...when I wonder if a rambling story has a point I should pay attention to more than the details of keeping all of us moving through our daily activities.
When it comes to improvisation, I think you could call us clumsy masters at this point. We are always making it up as we go, while trying to stick with consistent values. My husband pointed out that it’s harder for us to stay flexible during times of low energy or low purpose, but that if we can regain either, then a new solution appears where we can live in a healthy place of firm, yet flexible. One of our pastors admonished that we approach these times with patience, humility...and generous listening (which would be aided by nixing the interruptions!).
By the end of the long weekend (which also included skits, swimming, boating, archery, riflery, “finger-blasters”/dodgeball, s’mores, gaga ball, “game show” night, scavenger hunts, slip n’ slide and lawn games), our family was exhausted and needing a break from each other. Thank goodness school begins in a few days. Yet, thank God for such a devoted pastoral staff and planning team and older youth who could enrich us throughout our time together. For now, we will dream of the possibility of change within and among us. In the meantime, we remain curious and hopeful creatures, hanging on and trying to put these ideas into practice one day at a time.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.