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3 Red Flag Words

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Sitting outdoors at the pumpkin farm, we chatted casually. The idyllic weather provided a perfect backdrop for friendly conversation. “Tell me about your upcoming travel schedule,” I said. Megan’s answer was a bewildered, transparent response of upcoming commitments which overloaded her already crowded calendar.

Well, at least…I offered.

Without even thinking, I just put it out there! Well, at least… As if on autopilot, the three-word hammer, came down.

Since that day, I have given thought to these three words that thwart—Well, at least—and the situations where they occur. I invite you to join me, and imagine yourself in one of these scenarios.

My teenage daughter just dented the rear door of our new SUV.

Well, at least she didn't total it.

I hate I had to leave early.

Well, at least you were able to come.

 My brother has cancer. 

Well, at least is not the bad kind.

My plane was 2 1/2 hours late.

Well, at least you got here.

 My husband has been laid off his job.

Well, at least he will now be able to attend your children’s sporting events.

My entire family is sick with the stomach virus.

Well, at least it is not the flu.

 My father just passed away.

Well, at least you had him for these many years.

My wallet was stolen.

Well, at least your bank can handle the confusion.

Last month, I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s.

Well, at least you are still here, and have not yet moved to your overseas assignment.

 Our washer just quit.

Well, at least you have an excuse to buy a new one.

Our baby was up all night with teething.

Well, at least you can take a nap this afternoon.

Lightning struck the tree in our backyard; it fell and it ruined the neighbor's fence.

Well, at least it didn't fall on their house.

Though each response is valid, the response is just not helpful. Three questions bear consideration:

1. What motivates us to respond Well, at least?

I believe we are uncomfortable with the raw negative reality that regularly occurs in life.

·      We feel awkward when we hear adverse information.

·      We assume the responsibility to instruct the individual in how to view their situation differently.

·      We are compelled to offer another viewpoint of their circumstances, situation, dilemma, pain, diagnosis, problem, or relationship. 

·      We don't know what else to say, and yet we feel the necessity to say something—anything. Our go-to response becomes Well, at least.

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2. Are we interested in correcting or connecting?

Herein lies an opportunity for you and me to grow. We must learn to resist the compulsion to correct, and use the occasion to connect. When we allow the Holy Spirit to implement a pause, we are set free to provide the ointment of relational understanding.

3. What would be better?

Imagine the individual saying, “I don't need your commentary; I need your comfort.” Then, if we listen compassionately with the eyes of our heart, more empathetic responses emerge.

I am sorry.

I am so sorry.

Do you want to talk about it? 

Tell me more.

(Silence with a hug.)

Instead of Well, at least, picture one or more of these suggestions inserted into our previous list.

My husband has been laid off his job.

Do you want to talk about it?

Last month, I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s.

I am so sorry. (Silence with a hug.)

Our baby was up all night teething.

(Silence with a hug.)

Lightning struck the tree in our backyard; when it fell, it ruined the next-door neighbor's fence.

I am sorry; tell me more.

Going forward: Since my conversation at the pumpkin farm, I have sought to be more circumspect, more alert. On more than one occasion, an internal buzzer has gone off reminding to me step back with my words and step up with my understanding. Well, at least I am beginning to get it! 

Living With Eternal Intentionality™: What about you? When do you tend to punctuate a conversation with Well, at least…? God's Word instructs us, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6).