Monday, November 5, 2012

The Stupid Comment Award Goes To...

Actually there are two stupid comments that earn this "impressive" award. One is commonly directed at women, the other at men.

Stupid Comment 1

I am sure you've heard it before. It's been around. It is a commonly used phrase of "encouragement", a book title, and the subject of poems and songs. But more and I more, I hear this phrase used in the context of sincere exhortation. Have you heard it? Maybe someone has said it to you?

"Put on your big girl panties".

Friends, if someone has said this to you, I'm sorry. And for those of us who have uttered these words, we can do better than this. Now is the time to rethink this little gem of "encouragement" because really...

It's not all that encouraging. 

In fact, it can be used as a huge sledge hammer of law that speaks disaster for those who are already mired in guilt, shame, and self-condemnation.

The underlying exhortation goes something like this:

Your situation is not all that difficult really. All you need is to dry your eyes, put on a smile, and go about your business - everything else will take care of itself.

Lyrics from this well know tune by Nat King Cole echo the same sentiment...
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow well as this poem on dealing with life's difficulties:
It's good to trust in others
just know one thing is true
The one you really count on
Should always be......YOU.
So when someone let's you down
Don't get in a snit
Put on your "Big Girl Panties" .....
and learn to deal with it.

In other words, the real pain and heartache you are feeling is such an innocuous emotion you can pretend it away. Anyone who has been beaten down by the difficulties in this life knows how ridiculous it is to think a smile will make a seemingly impossible situation all better.

I met with a woman recently who is struggling. Her marriage is difficult and an issue with her son is heartbreaking. She feels tossed around by life's sea of waves and while she still longs for control she knows she has no control - and it's scary.

She talked, I listened. When she finished I said,

I'm so sorry.

I spoke with her again recently. She is meeting with a christian counselor and she shared how the counseling is helping her sort through her emotions and her responses. Then she said, "Of all the things people have said to me, I most appreciate what you told me when we met last time...

I'm sorry".

When I'm grasping for the right words again I hope I remember that a simple compassionate response is always appropriate. And just maybe, we can say goodbye to this "not so prized" phrase.

Stupid Comment 2

This is one of those comments that seems so right and so necessary. It comes from a sincere heart I have no doubt. Have you heard it? Has someone said this to you?

"Man up".

Another way of putting it is this commonly used phrase "Step up". Books and songs have been written and whole ministries are built upon this idea of "man up". I love the sincerity and the heart behind the message, but this simple phrase like the comment above is a compassion-less plea to "get yourself together". Here is the exhortation:

If you would just start acting like a man (tough, in control, responsible, and strong) your problems would be solved. You will garner respect, your wife will love you more, and your children will emulate you. Oh, and your church will now see you as acceptable and able to lead.

Telling someone to get their act together is like giving them a scalpel for the bullet lodged in their chest. They know something has to change (the bullet needs to come out) but they can't do it themselves.

Urging them to get busy, roll up their sleeves, and start acting like a man sounds good, but will only lead to despair (I can't do it) or pride (look at well I'm doing). Practical exhortations are helpful but not apart from the life giving truth of the gospel that reminds sinners of their utter inability while rescuing them with God's amazing grace, power, and forgiveness. In the same way that a sad and depressed woman can not pick herself up and act differently, a man caught in the "do more - try harder" vortex will find it impossible to drum up any lasting change.

The Gospel Trumps Stupid Comments

What a great refreshing orientation. Regardless of how I feel, the gospel is true. The gospel - the person and work of Jesus Christ is powerful when I am weak. He is forgiving when I am unforgiving. He is faithful when I am unfaithful.

The gospel trumps everything, including stupid comments. If you have been on the receiving end of one of these comments

I'm so sorry.

Now, hear the reorienting good news of the gospel:

The gospel reminds us that we are weak - all of us. That none of us act in ways we should. The gospel liberates us in a way that nothing else can. We are set free from the burden of having to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and smile or be strong for others. We know all too well the truth that we're not getting it done - the bible reminds us -  (as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one. Rom 3:10)

The gospel reminds us that we are just like everyone else and when we are tempted to give in or give up we can remember the liberating truth that God is patient with us in the midst of our difficulties. His love knows no bounds and he is always coming toward us with compassion and forgiveness. (I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jer 31:3)

The gospel refreshes us as we rest in the perfection of Jesus. His sinless record is now ours. Yes we sin, but In Christ we have a perfect record before God.

On those days when smiles won't come, when our weakness overpowers us and when we can't see our way through to the other side, the gospel reminds us that our weakness is actually our strength. (But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor 12:9)

p.s. A good alternative to the two stupid comments? Try this one next time;

I'm so sorry.


  1. That is so great Lori...thanks for posting it.
    A number of years ago, a friend had her mother pass away, and the loss was felt very deeply by our friend. My wife and I went over to her house and just sat with her, and hugged her...and I'm not sure we said anything other than speaking her name with compassion (interpreted as "I'm so sorry"). Years later she reflected in a Christmas letter that our presence was central in helpin her in her time of grief. And here we were thinking we were so helpless in being able to assist...and that is exactly what was most helpful.
    Blessings to you Lori

  2. Beautiful Phil. Thanks for sharing. Simple compassion is priceless :)