Why you say it matters more than what you say.*
Tone counts in communicating truth.
I had an interesting conversation with a Hindu and a Sikh while I was at a meeting in New York City . We discussed how many Christians use the phrase, “I’m praying for you.” I asked where this phrase felt offensive to them. My Hindu friend felt that it was in fact often offensive to her. I wondered why. The Sikh woman clarified it well for me, saying that it is not the words that are the problem, it is the tone used when saying them. She noted that if someone is truly wanting the best for her, or sharing that they are praying for the best for some family member that is ill, for instance, then it makes sense, and that kind of prayer “can’t hurt.” But if someone makes a strange face at her upon finding out that she is a Sikh, and says, condescendingly, “I’m praying for you” then she knows that religious language is intended as a back-handed insult. Remember: why you say it matters more than what you say.
This was a helpful conversation for me, and in fact helped strike up a deeper friendship with these two. In fact, one of them told me the next day: “I never thought I would come to New York City and the person I would get to know the best would be an Evangelical Christian.” This is the kind of bridge-building respectful relationship that I hope to have with people.
In his book Bold As Love, Bob Roberts says, “Many of us are in the habit of speaking about others, rather than to them or with them. We know how to speak our tribal language, but not how to speak to other tribes.” I think this is the critical problem with “why” we say the things we do. We spend most of our time in the process of evangelism talking “about” those we want to share with, rather than talking to them directly. As Colossians 4 says:
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may now how you ought to answer each person.”
More Than What (series links)
Click here for part 1: When you say it matters more than what you say
Click here for part 2: Why you say it matters more than what you say
Click here for part 3: Where you say it matters more than what you say
Click here for part 4: Who you say it to matters more than what you say
Come back for part 5: How you say it matters more than what you say
*Thanks for reading. You might be interested to know that this article is from the cuts in a manuscript I am working on currently titled “Unsustainable.” If you like this then I’m hoping you’ll really like what actually makes it into the book. Stay tuned.