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When someone says, “I owe you an apology,” have they really apologized? It seems to me that until they say the words, “I’m sorry,” it doesn’t count. Owing an apology is like saying, put it on my account!

“That show’s been running for seven seasons and I never miss it,” a commenter online said, and I had to mull that over. Does that mean they like the program? Or perhaps they don’t watch it, and frankly, they don’t miss it either?

“Hey, Ruth! Long time!” It was an old acquaintance I’d run into at the store. “You look exactly the same!” he said, to which I replied, “Thank you!” I assumed it was meant as a compliment, but was it? What if he’d actually meant, “You looked like forty miles of bad road twenty years ago, and dagnabbit, you look exactly the same today! My condolences!”

Maybe we’ll never know what other people are thinking. The best we can do is to be truthful yet tactful, choosing our words carefully. With any luck, we’ll be able to make our point in a kind and thoughtful way. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Step with care and great tact, and remember that life’s a great balancing act.” 

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Proverbs 16:24 NIV

CJ Craig: “Mr. President, I hate to ask you this…”

President Bartlet: “Not too late to stop yourself.”

Dialogue from TV series, The West Wing

It’s always a red flag when someone says, “I hate to say this,” or “To be brutally frank,” before they give an opinion.

A friend noticed I’d gotten new glasses. He cocked his head and said, “You really want to know my honest opinion?” That didn’t bode well, so I said, “No.” He told me anyway. “I don’t think they’re the right shape for your face.”

Fie!

I had to un-follow a blog about faith that I really enjoyed when the blogger wrote, “I hate to say this, but let a gay kid in high school get beaten up a few times and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.”

Well.

I hate to say this, but to be brutally frank, that’s not inspirational. That’s hateful.

Imagine someone saying, “Let a Christian kid in high school get beaten up a few times, and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.” Or a Jewish kid. Or a Muslim kid. Or any kid, especially one of your own children.

Why is it some people think that others need to hear a negative opinion that nobody asked for? Do they just like to rain on parades? I wonder what they get out of being a chronic bubble-burster.

I love the way this passage from Ephesians is phrased: “…Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Speak to one another with psalms. At the same time, sing to the Lord. Is it possible to do both? It is, when we remember that when we speak to anyone, we’re talking to a beloved child of God – a prince or princess, if you will. That should make it easy to speak with tact and grace. Kindness and compassion.

Sweet as honeycomb.

In New Jersey last week, gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono visited a school that had been devastated by Superstorm Sandy.  The newscaster said, “That 80 year old institution is badly in need of repairs.”

As he was speaking, the camera showed a close-up of Ms. Buono, who, while no spring chicken, certainly doesn’t appear to be an octogenarian.

Cut back to the anchor, looking sheepish.  That didn’t come out right!

Early in his career, the CEO of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen and his musicians were introduced as “Bruce Springstreet and the E Steen Band.”  Hardest working guy in rock and roll, and they can’t even get his name right?

The Chevrolet Nova didn’t sell well in Central and South America, leaving the carmaker’s executives puzzled.  Finally, someone figured out the problem.  Apparently, in Spanish, “No va” translates to “it doesn’t go.”

Isn’t it also true that even we, as people of faith, might say something we intend to be positive, only to find that it’s taken as an affront?

“I’m praying for you.”

Just as SueBE said in her insightful post earlier this year, this is meant as a helpful thing when we say it, but sometimes it can come across as pitying, or even insulting.  They may think we’re saying, you obviously don’t know what the heck you’re doing, so I’m going to ask God to intervene!  If they’re not on the same wavelength in their faith-life, maybe it’s best to pray for them silently.

“God chastens those He loves”

Well, perhaps, but God also embraces, encourages and emboldens those He loves.  When somebody is going through a hard time, it’s best not to blame the victim.  Saying something like, I’m here if you need me is simple but welcome at a time like that.

And that rule of thumb we learned in grade school – when in doubt, leave it out – also applies to well-intended platitudes that may turn into sour grapes and hard feelings.  Being there during dark days is the best gift you can offer a friend. Showing up and being supportive, even if it’s to sit in silence and hold a hand, speaks volumes to those we love.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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