Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Barbs Hidden in Honorifics

deceptive bendsphoto © 2003 Paul Lim | more info (via: Wylio)
Since I have been on a journey of exploring what the Bible has to say about women and womanhood for the past two years, there is one assumption that has always perturbed me: The highest calling of any woman is to be a mother. This statement has not perturbed me because I desire to be childless, but because I believe this statement is both untrue and hurtful to women without children. It is untrue because I believe the highest calling of any woman is to be like Christ, to be His ambassador in a hurting and broken world. And it is hurtful because God does not call all women to motherhood, and when we artificially elevate motherhood, we imply that women who are not mothers have a lower status in their lives and calling. A woman who is not a mother is not any less of a woman simply because she has not been pregnant, given birth, breastfed, or mothered her own children.

But unintentionally hurting people when attempting to bring honor to other people turns out to be rather common. Regardless of the inherent truth in a statement, we must begin to think of the hidden barbs in our words of honor. 

For instance, I honestly cannot think of life without my husband. He is my best friend and an amazing life partner. But when I say things honoring my husband or marriage at large, my words can implicitly dishonor singleness. How many times have you heard a sermon containing a line like, "No greater opportunity for sanctification will present itself than your marriage"? While I agree that marriage is a great opportunity for sanctification, we must remember that God does not grant everyone this opportunity, and their opportunities for sanctification are just as noble and glorifying to God. Single people often sit silently when marriage is elevated above singleness, being wounded and alienated from community. 

The same is true for the attempts we make at congratulations or well-wishes. When a woman is pregnant or gives birth, many people say, "As long as it's a healthy baby..." But have you thought about how that makes parents of children with illnesses and disabilities feel? Does that mean that we do not want unhealthy babies? Similarly, when honoring our men and women in uniform, do our words imply dishonor to those who are not in the armed services? Or perhaps the most common in some ministry circles: Do our words praising pastors and missionaries wound those who God has called to be engineers, teachers, or chefs?

I know that thinking about all of the people we can possibly wound with our words is exhausting. We should not stop honoring marriage, motherhood, military service, or vocational ministry. But perhaps we can make attempts to honor singleness, childlessness, civilian life, or secular vocation in a balanced way? The pulpit might be a great place to start doing this. Since we usually hear a Mother's Day sermon and a Father's Day sermon, can we hear at least two sermons a year on the beauty and value of serving those outside our biological family? And perhaps your church can host a conference for single adults, divorced adults, or single parents every once in awhile in addition to the annual marriage conference. Let's get creative.

I'm not asking for perfection. All I'm asking is that we think about what we say before we say it and what we do before we do it. Our words and actions carry many meanings, and we should pay better attention to them. 

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Have you ever been unintentionally hurt by words that were meant to praise someone else? How did you deal with this? How can we, as the offended parties, deal with these situations appropriately? And how might we, the unintentional offenders, learn to love and honor all the members of God's family?

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