There are important implications to the language we choose. Commonly used terms and phrases can carry more than just one level of meaning to those receiving their message. Some of these meanings lie in the actual textbook definition, but there may be other conscious and even subconscious meanings that get transmitted because of experiential associations with these words. So with the hope that we can begin to better communicate what our true message is while at the same time being considerate of others, I’m rolling out six reasons why we should throw out the platitudes.
1 | THEY CAN MINIMIZE THE SERIOUSNESS OF SOME SITUATIONS
While using platitudes and common religious phrases can earn you head nods and head bobs with other church goers who know exactly what you’re referring to, they can come across as flippant and insincere to someone who is in deep need of connecting with another about a hurt.
Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to publicly accuse Larry Nassar, said this about the language that was used to communicate with her from her church as she struggled to deal with the personal devastation of her sexual abuse:
“One of the areas where Christians don’t do well is in acknowledging the devastation of the wound. We can tend to gloss over the devastation of any kind of suffering but especially sexual assault, with Christian platitudes like God works all things together for good or God is sovereign. Those are very good and glorious biblical truths, but when they are misapplied in a way to dampen the horror of evil, they ultimately dampen the goodness of God. Goodness and darkness exist as opposites. If we pretend that the darkness isn’t dark, it dampens the beauty of the light.
2 | THERE MAY BE HEAVY BAGGAGE ATTACHED
When we casually use common phrases and terms to describe important spiritual concepts, we can’t always know exactly how these terms have been used on people in the past. Unfortunately, there are many unhealthy churches or church leaders who use spiritual concepts as a means of control and manipulation.
3 | OVERUSE CAN LEAD TO MISUSE, WHICH CAN LEAD TO A LOSS OF THE TRUE MEANING
Scholar and theologian Marcus Borg had much to say about the language used by Christians. So much so, that he wrote a book called “Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power — And How They Can Be Restored”. In this book, he says,
“Christian illiteracy is only the first part of the crisis. Even more seriously, even for those who think they speak “Christian” fluently, the faith itself is often misunderstood and distorted by many to whom it is seemingly very familiar. They think they are speaking the language as it has always been understood, but what they mean by the words and concepts is so different from what these things have meant historically, that they would have trouble communicating with the very authors of the past they honor.”
4 | PARROTED PHRASES PROMOTE SHALLOW THINKING
When common terms and phrases are used and reused, in other words — when they’re parroted — it gives the one communicating a short cut to processing their own thoughts and feelings. This can lead to shallow and inauthentic thinking. Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, put it in the following way:
“We have become very shallow as Christians. Very shallow. We have become masters at engineering feelings without much thought. There is very little thinking that goes on at church. We repeat things. We parrot things. We have not thought our faith through. We have not listened to others and what their questions are. Our answers are very shallow. In trying to become seeker friendly we have become message unfriendly. We have no real depth to what we are trying to teach and speak. Life has got it’s jagged edges against us and we are giving simplistic answers. Somewhere we fell into the trap of believing that music is everything — forgetting that it is only one thing — and that teaching and ideas are important and an expenditure of words without an income of ideas will lead to conceptual bankruptcy. And we are so conceptually bankrupt on this we cannot really explain these things. And until the church wakes up to what our message is, and thinks deeply about these things, we will slip deeper and deeper into parroting phrases that have very little difference in our lifestyles. “
5 | CASUAL USE OF COMMON TERMS AND PHRASES CAN LEAVE THE GENUINENESS AND VALUE OF WHAT’S BEING EXPRESSED OBSCURED
Are you “saved”? Have you “asked Jesus into your heart?” Have you “prayed the sinners prayer”?
Instead of describing the moment of coming to God as “getting saved”… maybe the describer could go into more personal detail about what that moment looked like. “When I was 20, I finally came to understand what God did for me, and made the decision that I wanted to live my life differently than what I had been. I realized that the way that Jesus described in the Bible, was for me.”
While the words don’t mindlessly roll off the tongue, they carry a mindfulness and intimacy to them that relays the genuine nature of what’s being described. There’s a chance for connection here, where maybe there wouldn’t have been had the person instead said, “Yeah, when I was 20, I gave my life to Jesus and decided to follow him.”
6 | OVERUSE SOMETIMES LEAVES THE CONCEPT IMPOTENT
When certain platitudes and phrases are used so casually and frequently (albeit, well-meaning), trying to hear it in a fresh way can be like driving down an old dirt road with well-worn tire tracks that leave a big hump smack in the middle. There’s no hope of veering off those familiar tread marks unless you steer determinedly off course, violently shaking your vehicle and self in the process.
What’s the solution?
To start “thinking deeply about these things”, as Ravi Zacharias would say. This means that we have to start peeling past the first layer of our faith and get real with what we are thinking and experiencing. Finding words to describe one’s thoughts is daunting and clumsy at first, but we each have a beautiful mind full of wonderful treasures that only we can share with the world.
Let’s stop overusing other people’s thought-treasures and start mining for our own.