The One Thing Worse than Saying the Wrong Thing

It’s happened to all of us.

  • We greet someone we’ve known for years by introducing ourselves as if we’d never met.
  • We try to be funny, but wind up saying something that cuts so deeply that it brings tears to her eyes. 
  • We try to give a word of comfort, and our words just end up adding to his weight of pain.

If you are human, especially if you are a human in the world of ministry, it’s happened to you.  And when it does, our natural response is simple, “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

The same principle holds true in ministry….

  • The disengaged kid, the very one we’ve been trying to hard to connect back to the group, gets inadvertently left off of the invite list to the one event she actually wanted to come to, angering the parents and convincing the youth (once again) that she’s not wanted. 
  • The new email software sends out the primary invite to our biggest event of the year, and it winds up in junk mail/span filters.
  • We go all out to personally visit all our college students away at school.   As we roll back into our driveway after 50 great visits, we get the call from the freshman girl we forgot to call, wondering if we’re still in town.

And when these things, happen, it’s only natural to think, “It would have been better to have done nothing, to have said nothing at all.”

And we would be wrong.

There actually is one thing worse than saying or doing the wrong thing: Saying nothing or doing nothing at all.

I was reminded of this truth profoundly in Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet this week.  Her words hit me like a ton of bricks:

“…there’s something worse than the things people say….When I lost my job, embarrassed and hurt and tender, I remember exactly who walked the other direction when they saw me at church and who walked toward me….The same was true with my miscarriage.  I can tell you to this day what people said, and much more hurtfully, who said nothing at all (p. 117).”

Speaking to a person in the midst of deep sadness can be risky; we hardly ever say just the right thing.  Trying out big ideas can be risky, because something will go wrong.

Of course, the safest thing for us to do, the best strategy for self-protection is to keep a good distance from people and their messy in lives.  The least embarrassing, the least awkward thing to do is to never get close enough to people to ever have to admit we’ve forgotten their name.

But once we give up on the illusion of perfection, when we avoid the tempting trap of assuming we can (e.g., must!) get it right, we step into freedom.  We are free to experiment, to incubate new ideas.  In short, we are free to love.

Sue Monk Kidd nailed it:

“New life comes slowly, awkwardly, on wobbly wings.

Today, may you have eyes to see the grace in your awkward, slow, wobbly efforts to love and to lead your ministry.

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