I’m noticing a problem. Actually, I’m noticing so many problems that I feel like I’m drowning in them, but let’s focus on just one for the moment–our sentences are too long. We’re using too many words–unnecessary words. Dangerous words. As a student, I somewhat enjoyed when people would ask me to edit their papers. More than anything, I would just cut words out. The paper could breathe so much better after getting rid of the clutter! Now I want to take my red pen and clean up some speech….
I started noticing this problem months ago, when a friend told me a story that took place at church. The class (of adults) was very judgmentally discussing other people’s problems, but they absolved themselves from the sin of being judgmental with this line: We need to love them as they try to live the gospel. She gritted her teeth, and she bit her tongue, and she shook her head, and then she finally told them what she thought–“Your job is to love them, period.” Look how much shorter that sentence is! Love them. Those are the only words we need. The other words are getting between us and God. When people aren’t interested in the church, we need to love them every bit as much. That’s what unconditional means, and that’s what we’re asked to do. Let’s not complicate things with extra words.
Here’s another personal favorite, said between people who haven’t seen each other in years because one stopped going to church: I’d love to see you at church sometime! Close, so close. This sentence just needs to lose two words. Try this–I’d love to see you sometime! This could be followed by an invite to meet for lunch. If church is the only place you care about seeing them, then you don’t actually care. You’re not their friend, and they know it. Fake friendship isn’t going to entice anyone to come to church. When you’re in a place that you genuinely care about each other and enjoy being around each other regardless of church, then it might be appropriate to invite them to church. Maybe. A sincere friend will know how to make that call.
Before we step away from church, let’s throw a classic example of a much too long sentence out there–Love the sinner; hate the sin. Such a terrible sentence! Six words, and five of them need to go. Let’s make it a shorter mandate–Love. Nothing else in that sentence is loving. Who goes around calling the people they love, sinners?? Sure, it’s technically correct, because we’re all sinners. But that’s not how we talk about people we love! The commandment says to “love your neighbor,” because neighbor is a nice word. Let’s start working on loving our neighbors by using kind and respectful language toward them. As for hating sin, the only sin any of us have time to hate is our own. When we’re personally without sin, then we can reconsider casting stones. If we were really good at this love thing, I have a feeling we’d be surprised how many other sins would just work themselves out.
Switching gears, this is another personal favorite. When somebody tells me that I’ve done something, anything, well, and then says, That’s really impressive with all the challenges you face. (Translation: “the challenges” is secret code for “wheelchair.”) This one is sooooo easy to fix, but let me demonstrate again how to make it shorter: That’s really impressive. Is it still impressive without the wheelchair in the equation? Cool, then just say that! Is it not so impressive anymore without the wheelchair? Ok, then, you probably just shouldn’t mention it at all. I don’t know how to respond to compliments with qualifiers. They don’t leave me feeling better about myself; they just leave me confused. Was that really a compliment? Am I actually good at [fill in the blank]? Or am I just warming hearts because I leave my house and do things in a chair?
Here’s another. There are many variations on this one, but the formula is always the same, I’m not a racist, but _____________. Fix this one by dropping everything after the comma. Nothing good has ever completed that sentence. Stick to I’m not a racist. Then ask yourself, “what would a person who’s not racist do?” Whatever it is, do that. It will never be the same thing that followed the original “but _____.” If unsure, gather up all the humility you can muster, and ask the people that you’re worried you might offend for some advice. If they give it to you, be grateful and gracious. If they don’t, don’t get upset; they owe you nothing. The same applies to No offense, but….
Since it’s seasonally appropriate, let’s tackle this gem: I don’t understand why people have to say Happy Holidays. Why can’t they just say Merry Christmas? I’m going to do some extreme editing on this one, and because I believe in choice, I’ll give options. This one can be cut down to Happy Holidays, or to Merry Christmas, or to a combination of the two. Everything else in the original statement screams “I don’t have enough real problems to worry about!” None of us have the energy to waste being offended because somebody decided to be all-inclusive in their holiday greeting. It’s ok to share the holiday season with people who celebrate a wide variety of holidays. It doesn’t hurt. Some even find it enriching. Just offer whatever holiday greeting feels right in the moment, and do it kindly, not smugly. Now could we please never have this inane conversation again?
Let’s end with one that’s actually not as grating as the others, but worth mentioning anyway. That’s someone’s daughter/sister/mother/etc. I chose feminine descriptors there because I feel like this is said mostly in response to disrespect for women, but I’m sure the same sentiment is said about men sometimes as well. And it’s not a bad sentiment. I just tend to replace it in my own head with That’s someone. Because that’s all that matters. It isn’t other people who give me value. I matter because I’m someone. Period. If there weren’t another soul in my life, I would still deserve the same dignity and respect.
We all do.