And I cannot lie. If you’re truthful with yourself, you could probably say the same thing. Most of us have heard things like “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas!” Boy, isn’t that the truth? But where “ifs” come as a result of speculation and wishing, “buts” come from a very different place. “Buts” come from a place of excuses and self-deception. For example, we all like to sit around and wish and dream of things being different in our life or in our world (“IF I could just save more money, I’d be less stressed”), but we seldom do anything about it (“BUT I just love to shop.”) The first part of that sentence is a factual statement about what you would like to do. The second part, though also factual, is your way of rationalizing behavior that will always prevent your dream from coming true.
“Buts” steal our joy and strength in every area: emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually and cause us to waste our time always stuck in the world of “ifs.” I have news for you; that doesn’t make you a “dreamer,” it simply makes you lazy. Am I a dreamer? Absolutely! I love to think about possibilities and ways to make the world better, but if I never take steps to actually make the world better, then I am no longer a dreamer; I am an “iffer.” A dreamer can stretch out into the land of possibilities and come back with amazing ways to do accomplish those things; an “iffer” simply lives in the land of possibilities with no intention of coming back and making things different. We should never degrade the term “dreamer” by making it a costume for our “ifs.” True dreamers seek ways to bring their dreams to life, where “ffers” simply seek dreams as a way of escaping life, and that’s where the “buts” come in.
“But” is a conjunction that is used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned. From a spiritual standpoint, it can often be said that whatever comes after the “but” is sin. That’s because we use it in the following mindset (fill in your own blanks): “I know I should do _____ but ______.” We make statements regarding things that God has put in black and white (or red and white) that He wants us to do. How many times have you heard these types of statements come out of your (or someone else’s) mouth?
- I know I should serve God, but I don’t have the time.
- I know God wants me to have a relationship with Him but it takes too much energy.
- I know I should give, but I don’t have enough money.
- I know I should love my enemies, but they don’t deserve it.
And then there are statements around things that we feel called to do, but cannot get a direct answer written in black and white in God’s word:
- I believe God wants me to teach, but I don’t speak well.
- I feel called to join the choir or worship team, but I just don’t have time to practice.
- I believe God is moving me into another line of work, but I’ll make less money.
There are so many things that we miss out on in life because of the word “but.” As a person of faith, it is one of the most damaging words we can ever utter. It is far more damaging than other words we use because it neutralizes us. It neutralizes our relationship with God, and it neutralizes our witness to others. It keeps us confined and holds us captive, and yet I have to admit far too often that I like big “buts.”
The truth is, “buts” make me feel better about myself, or at least create the illusion for me that I feel better. They put a nice-looking coat over the rags of disobedience, unfaithfulness or even fear. They make me feel better about acting wrongly or making improper decisions. “Buts” also make me feel validated about things I fear. Instead of admitting I’m scared to step out on faith, I use the word “but.” For me personally, I have felt called to preach, teach and minister to others since I was about 10 years old. Being a woman, there are some (maybe even many) who would try to tell me God reserves the call of any kind of public ministry only to men. I, however, believe it is up to God to call whoever HE chooses to the service He has actually created them to undertake. I have believed for over 37 years that God was calling me to a greater depth of service to Him in these areas, but I might lose friends over forging ahead especially when the opportunities may be scarce to do so. People might criticize my choices, even if I believe I am following God’s call. Actually there is no “might” about it; people WILL criticize my choices when it doesn’t align with their opinion of what I should do or be. So instead of leaping completely into what I feel called to do, I dabble in it. I go through stages of full commitment until the thought of what I might lose by going further scares me. And that’s when my stutter returns. “But…but…but…”
We use “but” like some kind of expensive perfume that we can pour over our fears, anger, disobedience, etc. to try and make it smell better. I say expensive, because it really does cost us so much when we use it. The truth is if we didn’t like “buts” so much, we wouldn’t use them so often. It just goes on and on, and then we complain that our lives are full of stress, debt, poor health or poor relationships. If we could remove the negative use of that word from our vocabulary – if I could remove it from mine –my life would start changing, because what we say becomes reality for us. We need to start owning our decisions, including the thought process that leads up to them! Quit making excuses, and start putting a period after the first half of your statements. If you say, “I believe I need to do ____,” then put a period at the end of that phrase and consider how you can accomplish what you believe you need to do. If you don’t feel strong enough to move forward yet, then at least call it what it is after the word “but.” Say “I believe I need to do ____, but I’m too scared” or “but I choose not to.”
I’ll leave you with this: there is a way to redeem the word and use it to EMPOWER you! Change your thinking. Start using the word “but” to contrast your negative statements instead of your positive ones.
- I’m afraid to step out on faith, but God said He would always be with me.
- I’m worried about my finances, but He has promised to take care of me if I seek Him first.
- Someone hurt me, but I will not let them keep me from loving others.
- I have wasted so much of my life, but today is a new day.
- I haven’t fulfilled my dreams yet, BUT nothing is going to stop me now!
“But,” in itself, is neutral. It’s what we do with it that makes it positive or negative. It’s my prayer that we can all start living the life of which we’ve always dreamed. It’s time to let go of the past and move forward. It’s time to get off our “buts!”