I was reminded how much words can encourage or tear someone down. Now with our speedy modes of communication, it’s easy to say or write something that we would like to take back. Just this week, I apologized to a reader I’ve never met who felt one of my blog comments was too harsh and critical; I certainly didn’t mean it that way, but since it was perceived that way the apology was mine to give.
Even more damaging than a misplaced word or phrase, is the friend who denies the exchange entirely. I was in a long-term relationship a number of years ago and realized that every time we had a difficult conversation and I’d later ask for a clarification or more information, I’d hear, “Oh, you must have misunderstood me; I was only joking.” I’d hear this phrase about seemingly unimportant things like whether he was planning to go home for Christmas, and about really important things like where the kids were going to go to College.
When I hear, “You’ve misunderstood; I was only joking,” it makes me feel:
- Stupid- like I can’t understand simple words
- Forgetful-maybe I didn’t remember the conversation correctly
- Humorless- as if I am the only one in the world that wouldn’t get the “joke”
- Too emotional- that I’d embellished the conversation and it never really occurred.
Does denying the conversation mean it never occurred? I have a childhood memory of my godfather calling me on the phone as a 7-year old to tell me that he had circus tickets. I waited for weeks excited about the circus, but when the circus came to town, my mother broke the news to me: “I’m sorry, honey. He was only joking about the tickets; he never had any.” My tears told the story of how I felt about the joke.
It took me a long time to pick up the pattern in my adult relationships, but now I’m wary when someone says, “you must have misunderstood me; I was only joking.” It usually stops the conversation from going further, a difficult pattern to get into. It’s a red flag, and I usually stop the relationship too as I’ve learned more in Proverbs 26:18-19: “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “I was only joking.”
Is that true? When someone says, “I was only joking,” was the first statement really just a lie?
Honest conversations start and end with honest words.
Blessings, my friend,