“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
(Col. 4:6 ESV)
I introduced my men’s Bible Study this morning to something known primarily in the south as “Bless His/Her Heart Syndrome” (BHHS). Essentially what this means is that you can say just about anything you want about a person, either directly or indirectly, as long you preface your attack with “Bless his heart, but…” I have heard the most vicious, slanderous, and malicious things said about people, even in churches, but it was okay because it all started with a blessing. In some circles this is known as a “vinegar pie.”
This thinly veiled assault takes many forms – here are just a few:
- “No offense, but…” or “Not to be rude, but…” These are usually prepositions to very offensive and rude comments, and usually all offense and rudeness is intended. What we really mean is, “I am about to offend you, but I will take it personally if you get upset with me over what I am about to say.”
- “With all Christian love…” How many times has someone complimented you, either for what you’ve done or how you look, and have prefaced their comments with, “I mean this with all Christian love…”? No, usually this kind of Christian love is critical love – “I mean this will all Christian love, but don’t you think you ought to get a haircut?”
- “Honest!” I have found if you have to try to convince people you are telling the truth by saying, “honest” all the time, you have a credibility problem. “Honestly, I’m not sure that dress really flatters you.” That’s almost like saying, “Well, most of the time I’d lie and say it looks nice, but this time I’m going to be brutally honest.”
- “I need you to pray for…” Now most of the time when people ask you to pray for someone, the request and need are genuine. Then there’s the time when you know something’s rotten in Denmark. The prayer request has very intimate details that really don’t help us know why to pray, but tell us a lot about the personal life of those involved. The prayer request begins with “well I heard…” and the source of the information is not the person or persons involved. We seem to think that as long as it is under the heading of “prayer requests” it is immune from becoming gossip.
- (Jon Acuff’s website Stuff Christian’s Like has a humorous look at the topic of BHHS)
All joking aside, though, while it’s prevalent, this kind of underhanded, verbal cut-down has no place in the Christian life. “Speaking the truth in love” does not mean sugarcoating the truth, or softening the blow with deflective praise.
James says, “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10). When I was a kid, I think the saying went, “You kiss your mom with that mouth?!?”
Maybe, as a Christian, you’ve cleaned up your language, and that is commendable. Swearing and cursing are ugly and offensive to a heart of peace and joy, and does not demonstrate the kind of love and goodness that befits the new life in Christ. But neither does the kind of veiled yet destructive language that usually follows “well bless his heart…” Why not just say, “bless his heart,” and leave it at that? Whatever criticism, whatever juicy bit of gossip you’ve got ready to fly, whatever cynical knock that’s about to drop – leave it at the blessing. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Let your blessing be a genuine blessing. And let your speech always be gracious.