The smallest word packs the biggest punch; in this case, it’s an absolute game changer.
You and I could use an imaginative shift, a new way of seeing things, and reclaiming “But” is an easy place to start. Here’s why.
“But” is the great rail switch that changes the trajectory of relationships in a heartbeat.
A few weeks ago, my daughter broke a plate. Well, the floor broke the plate and my daughter could have prevented the ceramic explosion. Not a big deal in light of the long history we call “catastrophe.” Still, it was sudden, loud, and meant some unwanted cleanup–a kind of cherry on top to celebrate a week of klutziness that included a daily milk spill. I was done with it all and I had a thousand excuses justifying my verbal explosion handy. I sent her to the back room, a place dedicated for criminal prosecution, and waited a few minutes to clean up the mess and “calm down.” What I was actually doing was working through my case, preparing myself to serve as judge, jury, and executioner.
All my files were prepared and duly rehearsed when I opened the door. Slumped, weary, tears still streaming down her face, she spoke as soon as I entered: “Daddy, would you please forgive me for breaking the plate…and…and…for just being careless all week?”
All my arguments dissolved in a rush of pity and gratefulness. Here I had everything I really wanted: a humble daughter who recognized her carelessness and wanted reconciliation. No belligerent self-justifying. I sat next to her and she clung to me, sobbing. “I forgive you,” I said quietly and then I just held her. We were good. Everything was as it ought to be.
And then it happened.
While I held her, my judge’s sentiments started gathering all those files off the floor and putting on the powdered wig again. Instead of leaving things alone, I spoke: “Honey (a warning shot across the bow), look at me.” She did. “I want you to know that I forgive you…but…I need you to be more responsible.”
“…but…” In that instant, I saw a change in her eyes. One second she saw her fault and was ready to turn the corner; the next second, I saw condemnation in her eyes: “You said you forgave me,” they seemed to say, “but you don’t really forgive me, do you?” And she was right. I hadn’t really forgiven her.
You see, I falsely imagined a world in which small words like “but” don’t really matter, forgetting that the word “but” is the great rail switch. In this case…
The train was headed toward grace and reconciliation…but…now it was moving toward estrangement and self-justification. Who’d have thunk it!
Maybe I’m not alone. Maybe you and I need to imagine a world of relationships in which the word “but” serves as the great game changer–both positively and negatively. After all, God used it: we were still sinners, but Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 my simplified version). The train was headed for Hell…but…Christ died for me.
We all want reconciliation. None of us really wants alienation. “But” is the rail switch that will send the relationship toward either reconciliation or alienation, depending on when it’s used.
Here are some common ways we use the word “but” and you can imagine where each one sends the train:
“I forgive you, but stop _________ (fill in the blank).”
“You hurt me when you said that, but I forgive you.”
“Yes, you were unfaithful to me, but I will never leave you.”
“I lost your stuff, but it wasn’t my fault.”
“I wanted to get the job done, but I didn’t have time.”
“I’d listen to you, but I’m tired.”
You see? The smallest word can pack the biggest punch. Parents (shucks, who am I kidding?), people who want strong relationships pay attention to how they use the word “but”.
The next blog post will discuss the benefits of drowning. Curious?