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A Warning About “Buts”

Have you ever thought about the power of the simple word “but”?

Sometime ago, I met with a young married couple who were obviously having serious problems. One of those indicators was that almost every time either of them said anything, the other began their rebuttal with the word “but”. The buts were flying all over the place. We were getting nowhere and here’s why.

I’ve noticed, almost every time a person uses the word but in a conversation where tensions are running high, what the speaker is really communicating to the other person, whether they mean to or not, is this; “The importance of what I’m about to tell you is either my reason or excuse for not taking more seriously what you just told me.”

In ordinary conversation, we use the word but, generally to introduce another opinion. Only rarely is the other person offended. However, when there is conflict, or when the other person is asking you to do something you really don’t want to do, the word but builds walls – not understanding. It almost always negates whatever statement came before it. It’s as close to a “No, I don’t believe you,” as we can get.

“Our Truth” I have my “truth” and it’s often different than my wife’s “truth”. Susan and I have been married almost 45 years. We’ve gone to Christian counseling a few of times over those years.

There were times I would recall for our therapist an incident or conversation between us that I would have sworn was true, on a stack of Bibles. Then my wife would tell her version of the same story that was markedly different than mine. She was so confident of her truth that she too would have sworn on the same stack of Bibles. (I realize Jesus warned us about swearing by anything, but work with me here!)

Someone is wrong. Someone’s not telling the truth. Someone’s memory is faulty and the temperature goes up in the room as we question the motives or memories of the other. It’s also possible that we’re both wrong – that neither of us understand the truth. Why is that?

Selective memory Because all of us have “selective memory” – the tendency to remember and, therefore, believe the facts that support our position or opinions. Inversely, we tend to dismiss information that threatens our assumptions. So, it’s highly probable that each person is being intentionally honest, but still mistaken, or believing half-truths. If you can extend enough grace to the other person, and humble yourself to admit the possibly that your memory, logic, or assumptions may be flawed, real understanding can begin. No one trusts an intentional liar, but love gives grace when we recognize all of us are flawed.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.” I Cor 13:4-7

The danger of selective memory with God We have a similar problem of selective memory with God. Each of us has “our truth” about the Christian life – it’s called our worldview. Our worldview is the sum total of everything we believe to be true, whether it is or not. We all have certain truths we want to believe and then find “scripture proof” to support that assumption. As a result, we make both conscience and unconscious decisions about how the Christian life works, often based more on how we want it to be, rather than what God wants.

But God! Then one day God “speaks to us”, giving us an impression to do something way outside of our comfort zone and the but’s begin. But, God I don’t… But, Jesus I just can’t…In fact, in the early stages of beginning to live by the 10 second rule, the other voice – the voice tempting you to disobedience, will pepper you with but’s. Why? Because almost every impression God sends is counter-intuitive. They will often threaten your “biblical worldview” and “common sense”.

You probably won’t understand why God wants you to do most of the things he asks you to do. Nevertheless, he expects you to do it. “But” is one of the most dangerous words we can use around God. The old song is right, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

Question: After reading this blog, please share with us the story of the next time you were tempted to use “but”, but didn’t.

Following Jesus in Real Life

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