Sunday, November 1, 2015

What not to tell people not to say

I started to write one of those "what not to say" blog posts. 

Of course there are scads of those on every sensitive topic imaginable. There were scads of them on MY topic. I Googled the phrase "what not to say" and got over two BILLION results. Some are tongue in cheek, but far more are serious and earnest.

Now, let's be clear: these kind of articles and posts aren't aimed at people who deliberately say mean, unkind, cutting or abusive things. Those people wouldn't read a "what not to say" article anyway. "What not to say" articles are mostly aimed at the well-meaning but clueless.

It seems there's no shortage of people who have gotten bent out of shape over what someone's said to them. Including me, yes.

One of the items I had intended to list was a single sentence spoken kindly, but in ignorance, which led to me sobbing right through a whole song at church. Was that sentence intended to make me cry? Of course not. It was intended to make me feel better. Not their fault it backfired.

Implicit in the whole concept of a "what not to say" article is the idea that I have some kind of right to expect everyone else in the universe to never say anything that makes me feel bad in any way--even accidentally. Is that even possible? It's a bit embarrassing to realize I got caught up in that kind of thinking 

Also implicit is the notion is that if we all just get educated enough, we could all say just the right thing to everyone in whatever trial they may be going through. This is the hope of those who read such articles, those who desire to never wound anyone with their words. An admirable hope, but again, I think it's too much to ask. How can one person ever know all of it? Two billion articles....

Here's the thing. It's inevitable that now and then someone will pop off and say something that just doesn't work. Maybe a stupid platitude; maybe an ill-timed and ill-considered joke. I'm not saying we shouldn't even try to say the right things at the right times. But we all fail. We're none of us perfect.

"And I will show you a still more excellent way.... Love is patient and kind.... It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.... Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." 1 Corinthians 12:31b, 13:4, 5, 7 (ESV)

Hm. Nothing in that chapter that even implies that love never says the wrong thing. In fact, it looks like it's on ME to stop expecting that no one will ever say the wrong thing to me. To give some grace. To be patient, to bear it, to endure. To cut the other person some slack, especially when I can tell they were just trying to be helpful.

"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them..." (Matthew 7:12, ESV)

If I want other people to take what I say in the spirit in which I intended it, then maybe I should do the same for them.

Photos in this post are free stock photos courtesy of