There’s a tiny three-letter word used in many conversations that’s been an instigator of doubt, helper of defensive attitudes, and distinguisher of joy in relationships. A casual little conjunction, called BUT…
BUT in itself is not a bad word. It’s the context in which we use it and the statements we choose to combine it with that’s the issue. In homes, workplaces, and in churches, I hear BUT being used in three different ways. Three ways that cause discord between people and promotes negative thinking. With some thought before we speak and a simple replacement word, I believe we can bring about change.
When we replace BUT with AND, we shift our phrases to the positive. We create encouraging and constructive conversations that open dialogue and build up relationships. AND takes nothing away, it only adds.
BUT and Doubt…
Combine BUT with an “I’m sorry” or an “I love you,” and we’ve completely taken away the sincerity of the apology and have established conditions around love. When we say “I’m sorry, but you’re not perfect either” or “I love you, but next time_____,” we are instilling doubt and confusion into our relationships, often leaving the other person to question where they stand, where we stand, and over time, where the relationship stands. It is better to keep the “I’m sorry” and “I love you!” as self-contained, assured statements.
BUT shows up in other ways too. We give, receive and process words through a wide spectrum of emotions and levels of confidence. What we may think is a casual observation or a small statement of opinion can be so much more to the receiver. The BUT can inject doubt into their work, their passions, and their callings.
Some examples… “I like it, BUT it would be better if _____.” “You did a nice job, BUT next time_______.” Instead try saying: “I like it, AND I can see you worked hard on this.” “You did a nice job, AND I would love to hear more about your process.”
BUT and Defensiveness…
We give (and give) so much of our time and talents to people, to our work and the church. Sometimes, we find ourselves in a state of exhaustion. We start getting protective of our time and energies, sometimes thinking we already did our part, gave enough and have nothing more to give. OR God has reluctantly moved us to a new place or a new season and we are processing through those all the thoughts and emotions of letting go and moving forward. When someone approaches us for help or our opinions on something, there’s a threat to answer out of our exhaustion and emotions rather from of a place peace and the inner strength that comes with knowing God has a purpose and a plan.
Instead of saying…”I would love to help BUT I’m already working too much.” Try saying, “I would love to help, AND even though my schedule does not allow it right now, I can help you by thinking of people who might be able to ask.”
Instead of saying…”We did it that way for ages, BUT now_______.” Try, “We did that for ages, AND now we get to do ____________. ”
“Another change! BUT why? ” Try, “Another change! AND maybe there’s good reason for it. I’m going to find out…”
BUT and Distinguishing Joy…
Every day BUTS can distinguish innocent joy. They can overshadow the simplest praise. BUT feeds discontent and rapidly multiplies in conversations. It shows up in our attitudes and the way relate to each other.
Instead of saying… “That’s good, BUT this person/this program/this church does it better like this __________.” Try, “That’s good, AND praise the Lord for what he has done it here.”
Instead of saying…”Only five people showed up, BUT more people should have come.” Try, “Five people showed up AND they were the rights ones. Our small group enjoyed a lot of good conversations.”
There is absolutely a time and place to state opinions, evaluate and reevaluate. It must be done in an edifying, safe and trusting environment, if not the “buts” will continue to destroy relationships, breed distrust and all sincerity will be lost.
I sadly admit I have been both a speaker and receiver of many BUT phrases. I don’t beat myself up about what I might have said, instead I look toward changing what I will say. I think it’s important to remember that in our humanity we are not going to have perfect conversations all the time. It’s an awareness of our choice of words, and working toward using those words in a positive way. This awareness and practice will be beneficial not only to our family, our workplaces and our church bodies but also to us. Let’s start catching ourselves in mid-thought and in conversations, and challenging ourselves to be the change and positivity-promoter that our relationships need.