But is a Bad Word

I have been doing some self-reflection lately, thinking about the words I use and the things I say. I try not to use any curse words and I try to speak kindly to and about others, but….

I realized there is one bad word I use quite regularly. It seems there is often a ‘but’ in my sentence, and the way I use it generally means something bad.

Sometimes I use it to camouflage my criticism and confirm my “correctness.”
I love how you’ve decorated your room, but I would put the desk in the other corner to            make it feel larger.
Your paper was well written, but you had quite a few typos in it.
Your dress is lovely, but it seems a bit short.

Sometimes I use the word ‘but’ to make excuses for myself.
I would love to spend more time with my Bible, but I just don’t have the time.
I wanted to say hi to the new family after church, but there were too many other people          waiting.
I thought about visiting my sick neighbor, but it looked like she already had company.

And worst of all, sometimes I use it being ungrateful.
Thanks for taking out the trash, but you missed a bag upstairs.
It was sweet of you to fold the laundry, but you didn’t put it away.
My cat is affectionate, but he always gets in the way

And of course, there are situations where I use it in all three ways. Some years ago Neil planned a big surprise for my birthday. I am not one of those people who love surprises. I’m quite comfortable with things consistent and unchanged. I need to know the plan ahead of time so I can adapt. But Neil loved surprising people: the secret planning, the mysterious details, and especially the shocked, joyful face on the recipient.

For this particular birthday surprise, he bought a brand new bedroom set. The wood matched the shade of an old favorite piece, and the mirror had a delightfully intricate frame. There were two roomy bedside tables to hold all our journals and books, and the dresser had drawer space for both of us. Neil arranged to have his friends take away the shabby old furniture right before the store delivered the brand-new pieces to replace it.

Everything was proceeding exactly as he planned, until I came home early from work. I found several trucks in the yard, strangers and friends in the house, Neil sipping a beer and directing the apparent confusion.

He was disappointed I ruined his surprise. He was even more disappointed when he saw the look on my face as he explained the gift. “What’s the matter,” he asked?

“Neil, it’s a beautiful set, but we really can’t afford this!” I moaned. Which translated into: You don’t understand our budget as well as I do.

“No, that’s the best part” he said. “I got it interest-free and I’ll be able to pay off the balance when I get paid on that big job next month,” he smiled proudly.

“Neil, this is so sweet, but it doesn’t match the rest of the room.” Which translated into: I’m not really paying attention to all the work you put into this.

“That why I also got new paint and I’ll do the walls this weekend!” he said excitedly

“Neil, it’s not that I don’t like it, but you caught me off guard. I thought I was coming home for a peaceful afternoon. Which translated into: I am making excuses for my childish behavior.

Fortunately, my husband had enough patience for my ‘buts’ that day, and sent me out to the back deck until he could get everything set up. By the time the trucks drove away I was feeling pretty ashamed of myself.

“I’m sorry,” I told him when he came outside to get me. “It’s ok,” he said, “come on. You’re going to love it.”

He was right; I did. I remember that day as I’m sitting on the bed right now. I remember how my “buts” could have hurt him, left him feeling unappreciated and criticized. And I don’t want to do that to anyone anymore! So, no excuses, no thanklessness, no obnoxious arrogance – no more buts!

He who guards his mouth and his tongue  keeps himself from trouble. (Proverbs 21:23)

If you have been foolishly proud or presumptuous- put your hand on your mouth.(Proverbs 30:32)

Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but he who restrains his lips does well. (Proverbs 10:19)



  1. The therapist I’m working with has me substitute “and” for “but”. It keeps me mindful and the switch in perspective is much more inclusive of the gifts of life. Fortunately the only thing we can do about our past “but”s is to forgive ourselves and smile.

  2. I so look forward to reading your stories and they are soooooo true! You have a gift for writing Colleen!!!!!!!! Neil is sitting on a cloud saying, I just love my wife. Love you, Aunt Pat

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