Miscellaneous Monday: Oh Be Careful Little Mouth

First of all, a completely random side note… Does anyone else have trouble spelling “miscellaneous?” I serious have to look at the dictionary or a previous post EVERY time I write/type it just to be sure I spell it correctly!

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post…

I’ve been thinking a lot the past couple days about some pretty standard (often well intentioned) questions we ask and things we say that we really just shouldn’t.

Example #1: (to our single friends) “Aren’t you ever going to get married?” or “When are you getting married?” I cannot tell you how many times people asked me these questions or some variation thereof. And the ridiculous thing is people started asking me this question while I was in HIGH SCHOOL! Most of those people were also the ones who would say of my high school friends who were dating and/or engaged: “They’re too young; it’ll never last.” (More on that in a moment) The question continued for a long time; I was in my thirties when I got married. And it was a constant reminder that I wasn’t married; that I wasn’t dating. I didn’t need the reminder; my still single friends don’t need the reminder. Single people are well aware of the fact that they are single. Some of them are perfectly content to remain so; some ache with a longing to be married. Some have some pretty personal reasons for making the choice to remain single; some are pretty straight forward. No matter what, you and I don’t know their inmost being. We don’t know their hearts; we don’t know their desires. We know only that they are single. We should not shame ANYONE for that; whether we think so or not, those questions are placing shame and guilt on the single person. Some have learned to blow you off. Some have not. It doesn’t matter either way; it’s really none of our business what’s going on behind the scenes. And by the way, just because it’s not “Facebook official” does not mean someone is not in a serious relationship. Social media does NOT make a relationship real, so just because someone in your realm of acquaintance doesn’t have their relationship status on Facebook, do not assume they aren’t seeing anyone.

Example #2: (to our young friends) “You’re too young to get married.” or “It’ll never last.” I’ve known a lot of couples that I thought were too young. And some of them are celebrating ten or more years of marriage. Some of them were divorced pretty quickly. Age wasn’t the measure of the health of their relationship. Truthfully, I don’t think anyone is ever REALLY ready for marriage. Marriage stretches us and grows us and causes us to either learn to let go of selfishness or breaks us. I cannot tell you how many young friends I have known to get married and almost overnight, you could physically tell that they had matured. And I have known friends that didn’t get married until later in life that didn’t let marriage change them and they ended up not lasting very long. Age does tend to correlate to maturity, but it is not a universal truth. An unhealthy relationship is unhealthy whether it’s two 16 year olds or two 30 year olds, whether the couple is the same age or one is older. If you have a legitimate concern about a relationship, don’t frame it in terms of age or tell someone it will never last. It will never last sounds like a dare. And age is just a number. Frame your concerns around what specifically concerns you. Patterns of control and manipulation, etc. Just make sure when you do this, you give specific examples of what that has looked like, and be prepared for the person to reject your advice. Matters of the heart are particularly sensitive and we tend to look for the best in the people we love. But the seeds planted from that conversation (those conversations) can later on come to mind and help set things in motion for change.

Example #3: (to our married friends) “When are you going to have kids?” or “Don’t you want kids?” Trust me, you have no idea the journey your friends are on unless they have very specifically opened up to you about it. Infertility and miscarriage are real issues that hurt far more deeply than words can express. I have friends who have genuinely not wanted children; we should not be putting a stigma upon them for this. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage is a cute rhyme. It’s not the reality for a lot of people. Don’t assume you know what has led to this moment. The plans we make before we are married are rarely the way things go. This can cause a lot of pain, sleepless nights, desperate tears, midnight pleas to God to change things. Whatever you may think is going on with your friends, you might be right or you could be very wrong. An awful lot of people are living with secret pain, especially where children are concerned. Don’t ask. I know you’re curious, but imagine repeatedly getting questioned about something where you had to answer creatively and that touches on your deepest pain. And imagine getting that questions from relative strangers. I swear, the moment someone knows you’re married, their first question is kid related. How many do you have? When are you going to have kids? How many kids do you want? Married people tend to get used to it and have learned how to answer even when they don’t want to. But try to be sensitive and let them bring up whatever they want in terms of children.

Example #4: (to our single friends) “Don’t worry; there’s someone out there for you.” Now, this may be in response to their saying something in despair or it may just be you see their singleness, know it can hurt, and want to offer encouragement. No matter what prompted this statement, it doesn’t need to be made. Many a person has devoted themselves to the service of the Lord to the point where even though they desired to be married, they refused to settle for someone who would take them away from that service. Many do not feel a deep desire to get married. There is no guarantee that everyone is going to find someone, and this encouragement rings very hollow to the heart of someone who has repeatedly faced another wedding without a plus one. It also tells the person who doesn’t have a desire to be married that they are broken, that they can only be in God’s will if they find the right person, the person they don’t even want. Better to say something along the lines of what my mom told me when I was really hurting over a particular situation related to this: “I’m praying God gives you the desires of your heart.” She didn’t mean that I would get married or that I would end up with a specific person. She meant that she was praying God would align my desires to His. And that was an extremely effective prayer that brought with it peace and joy in the midst of what could have been an excruciating situation.

Example # 5: (to our friends who are not fresh out of high school) “You’re only settling because you’re desperate.” This seems to be especially preached to those who have done very little dating. It often comes without any knowledge of the other person involved. It is based upon a lot of assumptions about the few known facts, and it is painful to hear. Just because someone starts dating after a long stretch of not dating does not mean that they are sick of being single and therefore settling for something other than God’s best. In fact, someone who goes a long time without dating and then suddenly starts often has been waiting for exactly the right time and person. They’ve been working through their own issues, trying to prepare for whatever God has in store, and their hearts and minds are peacefully able to recognize when God brings along that next step. Yes, there are times where people settle, and it isn’t good. But just like our young friends, we should only be discussing specific concerns that we have observed to cause issues in this specific relationship. A general concern of, “Well, I have just seen that not work before,” doesn’t help. Truthfully, your unmarried friends who are a bit older probably know a lot more about what they are looking for and what they need than you realize.

Our words cut a lot deeper than we think. In fact, if we were thinking, we probably wouldn’t say a lot of what we do. These are some examples of things we say/ask that we don’t think will hurt quite as much as they do. Each example comes from well meaning people who want to show their concern for their friends and family. They’re questions and statement we hear so often we begin to ask them without thinking it through. We don’t ask ourselves, “Hmm, is there a better way to express that?” They’re surface level but they touch on deeper issues. So if we really want to know, we have to be willing to speak to their heart and know that we may come away much messier from the situation than we expected. But we minister better in the muck and mire alongside a hurting friend than we do assuming things and finding we were wrong.