I have stuck my foot in my mouth so many times in the last month that I have lost count. There was the time when I introduced myself to a young lady that I had prayed for several times and had known for literally years. There was the occasion where I mentioned the ramifications of fathers being absent in front of a single mom with a teen daughter. Then there was the time I mistook someone and asked her how her father was doing, only to be corrected that I had her confused with someone else. Open mouth, insert my big size 12 foot! As I moaned to my daughter that I had done it once again, Annika encouraged me, “I think you need to shift to more generic questions and stop introducing yourself.” If my memory does not improve, I will have to take her advice!
As I pondered my missteps, I thought that so often we speak before we think. Piggy-backing off of my last blog where I discussed the shame moms feel, I thought I would provide some tangible help so we can have words filled with grace for each other:
1. THE GREETING
The common “How are you?” could be improved upon. First of all, sometimes we don’t really mean it. We really are just going through the motions of small talk. The other problem is that this can be a very challenging question for someone to answer who is in the midst of a trial. No one wants to always sound half empty, but often times our challenges last months not hours. Instead of reinforcing a false sense of happiness, what if we moved to “I am so glad to see you!” as a way to start a conversation?
2. CARE ABOUT THE HEART
It is so easy to stick to the status quo. We are generally trained to ask about facts, but what if we really asked about the heart? Often, I am in a group of women with the awareness of a pain or hurt that is going on behind the scenes in someone’s life. I cringe as the mom of the thriving college student completely unaware asks the mom of a prodigal how her son is doing. What if we asked about each other instead of all the things that we are measured by?
3. GIVE THE GIFT OF GOING FIRST
People take cues from our input. If you are vulnerable, then you allow the other person in the conversation to feel safe and engage in meaningful conversation, too. By no means am I recommending to be Debbie Downer, just authentic. Our tendency is to be fake instead of real. Be wiling to show your vulnerability first. It is a gift that a relationally starved world will appreciate.
4. SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
I hope you realize I am teaching myself on this point! In a social setting, keep an awareness that there are commonly among you women who are at a different place from you. Are you talking about babies in the presence of someone battling infertility? Are you complaining about your husband forgetting to run an errand in front of a single mom or recent widow? Are you talking about married life in front of a divorced or single woman? I am not suggesting that we become paranoid about what subject we discuss; but I am suggesting that we care enough about others that, when we are in a group of acquaintances or strangers, we have a sensitivity to others.