Reacting to Words

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So before I wrote and posted the blog entry I ended up going with, I started working on a much more difficult one. I wrote out about 3 paragraphs and sent it to E, asking if I had made sense, feeling like I hadn’t connected my dots. It was a post all about how much the phrase “used by God” bothered me on an intellectual level, how we should think about the words that we use. Words matter, after all. I absolutely believe that and I do think that sometimes the language Christians get caught in is problematic. E started doing a totally helpful thing – he gave me all of the counter-arguments to what I was saying. I went back and forth for a little while and finally I got to the point. I wasn’t trying to win an argument. This wasn’t actually about that. I make things into intellectual (or pretend intellectual) arguments when I’m hurt and don’t want to talk about it. This was just about me saying I was hurt by a phrase. And it was very sensibly pointed out to me that maybe that’s what I should be writing about.

So here’s what I’ll say, even though my instinct is to go a whole different direction that feels safer to me. I know this isn’t about theology and I know it isn’t about really even sensible things. It’s a reaction and I hate admitting pure reactions. (okay, okay, this is the part where I stop talking about it and just say it) I hate the phrase used by God. Or any variation of the phrase. I hate that it’s something you’re supposed to want. It makes me twitch when I hear it and, even when I was supposed to want it, I don’t remember ever feeling particularly good about it. The truth is that, as someone who spent the vast majority of my life feeling like I was an object, feeling like it was my only real purpose to be used by practically anyone, hearing the phrase “used by” is not a great thing. Replacing “by guys” with “by God” doesn’t actually make it feel better. There’s something deadening about the entire concept, something that makes me feel cold. God loves us unconditionally and, once we love him back, he gets to use us. Again, I’m really not arguing theology here because I do understand the points that combat these theories but this is where it takes me, not just mentally but kind-of physically to hear those kinds of phrases.

I hate admitting that because I don’t like admitting I’m still in that place. I don’t like admitting I still shudder and tense up at certain things or that I’m still that likely to just switch off when I perceive a (real or imagined) threat. I don’t like admitting that I’m not always sure which ones are real or imagined. I don’t like being the victim and I have fought pretty hard these last few years to build a new identity. Still, you can’t undo everything at once and some things are sewn a lot more tightly than others. One of my favorite writers, Jacob Clifton (who you should all go Google immediately) says that every problem started as a solution to something  and they stop being solutions when they start keeping you from moving forward. I’m still sorting out what are problems and what are solutions. Some days it seems like both. I just know that feeling safe is still a place I work towards. It’s no longer an imaginary place, it’s not an impossible dream but it’s still something I fight for. And it means that I have to accept that certain language can hurt in ways that may not fully make sense but is still True. I guess it’s a process.

Look, I’m far from the only person who feels this way or has felt this way. I feel uncomfortable writing this entire post because I don’t want to admit these kinds of things but then I think maybe that’s exactly the reason I should write it. There is a lack of safe places in this world. I’ve been lucky enough to find a few. I believe there are people and groups of people out there who genuinely want to provide safe spaces and simply don’t understand the damage that they can do with words they don’t even think about. There’s a danger to cultural shorthand and there are plenty of people who have reasons to get skittish around it. Making those kinds of changes is a process too but I’d at least like to suggest that it’s one worth thinking about.

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One thought on “Reacting to Words

  1. A thing to take to heart. I think examining the language we use every day is important. For you, it’s this phrase that hurts but, of course, there’s different catchphrases that hurt others.

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