So often in ministry and counseling work I encounter people who are plagued by “buts.”
“I’d like to get out and meet some new people, but….
“I’d like to go back to church but….”
“I’d like to tell my husband/wife/mom/dad/son/daughter, etc. how I really feel, but….
“I’d like to quit this bad habit, but….”
“I’d like to change jobs, but….”
And many more examples that touch on different aspects of their lives and well-being.
What follows the “but” is often a statement of fear, doubt, or unbelief, such as, “I’m afraid I’ll be rejected…I’m afraid they won’t understand…I’m afraid of how I’ll cope…I’m afraid I’ll never be able to find a better job…”
Or worse, it is a statement of shame and self-loathing, such as, “I know no one would want to be with me…I’m too messed up to dare get around a bunch of Christians…I’m worthless…It’s hopeless…”
“But” is a necessary word in our vocabulary. It is a way of expressing a contrast or qualifying a statement. BUT, it can also be a dangerous word. It can shut down growth. It can keep people stuck in depression and loneliness and defeat.
Sometimes I recognize that someone is “butting” themselves to death because I am feeling frustrated. I’m trying to help them find solutions, and everything that we discuss has an obstacle, a “but” that rules it out as a possibility. I’m aware of the “but” syndrome by my own frustration in trying to be helpful!
I’ve found a way of working through this that comes as a revelation to people when I suggest it. It is to replace their “but” with “and.”
Check out what a difference this makes:
“I’d like to get out and meet some new people, and I acknowledge that this is hard for me.”
Self-acceptance instead of fear of rejection.
“I’d like to go back to church, and I need to find a community where I will be welcomed as I am.”
A positive goal instead of religious self-condemnation.
I’d like to tell______ how I feel, and I need to learn how to express myself more honestly.”
A move toward assertiveness instead of passivity and co-dependency.
I’d like to change jobs, and I’d better get started looking because it might take time and effort to find it.
Optimism and determination instead of pessimism and defeatism.
Scripture actually contains lots of “buts.” Do a search and you’ll generate hundreds of instances. God contrasts himself with his creation, his ways with the double-minded ways of humanity, his goodness and light with wickedness and darkness. “But” is incredibly useful for that.
We celebrate the places in Scripture and in our lives when God intervenes with a “but God, …” This is where God takes our impossibilities and makes them possibilities, only through his love and power.
Here’s a favorite one of these. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…(Eph. 2:4-5).
“But God” is the best kind of “But” statement!
“But” also plays an important part in Scriptural admonishments, such as, “When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do…but when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…” (Matt. 6:2-3). Or “…Do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph.5:17).
Of course, we must take heed to these instructions that include a but.
But, as illustrated above, in our personal lives but can be grossly and destructively overused.
Is it possible that we can be guided by Scripture toward some ands that might allow us to be more positive and fruitful? Try on a few:
When wondering how our needs will be met:
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
When afraid because things are not looking so good:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
When discouraged because the world seems hopelessly lost:
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light (Rom. 13:12).
And, there are many more. As we live our lives and search the Scriptures, maybe the best route is to notice both the buts and the ands, because we need them both. And, we can ask the Holy Spirit’s help to keep them in balance.