The other day I came across a title of a book written by a pastor that made me literally laugh out loud, “Stupid shit people say at church”. I mean can’t we all relate? I certainly can. Usually this happens when you are going through something hard. It’s things like, after you lose your loved one, “God just needed another angel in heaven”, or “It was God’s will”. Or when you are going through a hard time, “God will never give you more than you can handle”. None of that is biblical by the way. We have all heard people say stuff that is meant to be helpful, but is hurtful instead. I’ve learned that people are uncomfortable with pain and silence and so they speak to try to say something to make the pain go away or minimize it without realizing they are maximizing the hurt.
Sometimes people say stuff in good times too. Stuff like, when you are announcing the birth of your fifth child, “When are you gonna stop having kids?’, or asking someone without kids when they will be having them as if it’s any of their business. People can also speak badly about others who have gotten something they wanted like a new job or a bigger house or new relationship. So many times envy and jealousy sneak into the happiest moments.
Sometimes though the hardest things to hear are from people you expected to be your friends. When people gossip about you under the guise of sharing a “prayer request”. “Oh, we have to pray for Sue, did you hear she’s getting a divorce because her husband cheated on her?” “Oh, we have to pray for Dave, he’s attending AA meetings now! (Gasp!)”
Sometimes people speak directly to you and say hurtful things under the guise of confessing what they have done or said about you that you weren’t aware of. And sometimes they say things under the guise of admonishment or improving your character that are hurtful. Most of the time those things are true but we have to ask ourselves two questions when considering what we will say, “will this further my relationship with this person or am I just trying to make my shame go away?” And “do I have the type of relationship with this person where I am being invited into their lives to speak to them about character flaws and blind spots?” If you are just trying to make yourself feel better by getting something off your chest then that’s not a good reason to then drop that burden on someone else. There is a verse about confessing our sins to our brother and we should do that in certain contexts but only if we are then going to provide a strategy for changing our behavior so as to not hurt that person again. Words are cheap, actions matter. As I often say in my house with my kids, “sorry doesn’t cut it, you have to change your behavior” I think there are few relationships that can withstand telling another person about their character flaws without serious damage occurring. You have to ask yourself if you would accept that type of admonition from this person for yourself? And what is your motivation behind doing so? If it’s not true sacrificial love, then it won’t be productive. Sometimes I think we use difficult conversations as a way to protect ourselves and subconsciously push others away.
It really comes down to empathy and really trying to see a situation from the other person’s perspective. Ask yourself how might this person be feeling or thinking in this situation, and how could what I’m about to say affect them? If what you are about to say has any motive other than building the other person up then don’t say it. We are especially bad in the church community of shooting our wounded and it’s got to stop. Why would anyone want to come to a place where people are hurting one another even if unknowingly? We are so quick to judge others and their situations and make rash statements and we just don’t stop long enough to think through the implications of our statements.
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” James 1:26