I’ve been known to put my foot in my mouth. I’ve said things that have been hurtful, dismissive, and downright frustrating.
In short, I need to be better about thinking before I speak.
To help me get better, I’ve kept a running tab of things that have gotten a negative reaction. I’ve even categorized them. The really bad ones? I’ve gotten pretty good at getting rid of those.
But it’s the well-intentioned remarks that are the hardest to kick. You know what I’m talking about… the phrases that are so overused they’ve become memes at this point.
And I promise that if you can get these out of your vocabulary you’ll have better conversations with family and friends almost immediately.
1. “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”
You’re going to see a pattern with a lot of these. This phrase is true, like most of the rest. God’s ways are higher than our ways. But God strives to meet us where we’re at. If God can become flesh, we can take the time to get onto someone’s level with who God is and why He might do or say something… rather than replying with what has all too often become a theological cop out. Ask some clarifying questions. Suggest looking at a relevant piece of Scripture together. Admit that you have the same questions or doubts. Struggle together.
2. “This too shall pass. Everything will get better in the end.”
I was a late bloomer when it came to following Jesus and it wasn’t until college when I joined my first Bible study. A girl asked for prayer about something very tough going on in her life and one of the leaders said something to the effect of… “It will get better, it always does.” I remember very clearly the girl opened her eyes, looked at the leader, and responded with… “Not always.” And she was right. It doesn’t always get better. It doesn’t always pass. And if someone is grieving, the best thing you can do sometimes is say you’re there for them and that you’re willing to walk alongside them.
3. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Technically, this is true because God is sovereign and nothing happens outside of His control. But it can sound dismissive to friends and family who may have gone through something traumatic in their lives. Don’t explain away some tragic event by saying that there must be a reason for it. Listen, ask questions, and say things like “I’m sorry” or “I’m here for you” or “I’m happy to help you through this if that’s what you want”.
4. “God helps those who help themselves.”
Aside from not being true, this is the opposite of the Gospel. We can’t help ourselves. That’s the point. Jesus paid it all. And if you read anything about Jesus, He likes hanging around those who know they can’t help themselves and ask for help.
5. “I’m blessed.”
All too often, I hear this phrase in response to asking how someone is doing. They’ll say they got a new job that pays more or a house in a great neighborhood and then pair it with… “I’m blessed.” The word “blessed” means holy. It doesn’t have anything to do with what I have or don’t have. It’s what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Are the sick not holy? Are the homeless not right with God? What about the family who just lost a child? You are blessed, but it’s not because of your job or your house. It’s because of Jesus.
6. “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
I get where we’re trying to go with this, but Christianity is definitely a religion. When we focus only on our individual relationship with Jesus, we strip away the fact that He is the King of the world. We are called to worship Him as a people, not as a person.
7. “We don’t need to __________, we just need to pray more.”
This one might get me in trouble, but hear me out. God has gifted each of us uniquely. Budgeting. Preaching. Teaching. Strategy. Labor. Writing. Leadership. I’m not saying to abandon prayer, but at some point God will want us to do something. And He wants to creatively partner with who He’s already made us to be — body, mind, emotion, the whole package.
8. “I don’t feel led to __________.”
All too often, this phrase is used as a way to deflect personal responsibility. God has given us His Spirit and He’s given us wisdom. If you don’t want to do something, just explain why with truth and love.
9. “Jesus didn’t have a strategy.”
Oh yes He did. He was consistent in his messaging. He had a target demographic. He had an intended audience. He was careful in appointing His team of disciples. He taught specific models for prayer, leadership, and healing. He worked within a very tight geographic location. Jesus most certainly had a strategy and you should too.
10. “Bless your heart.”
I saved the best one for last. Everyone knows it’s condescending — and your conversations aren’t going to last very long if someone feels condescended to. Instead of saying “bless your heart” try “I hadn’t thought of it that way”.
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