What’s hiding behind our platitudes?
I hate platitudes. I know hate is a strong word, but that’s how I feel. They’re good for nothing.
Really, they’re dismissals. Things “we can all agree on” so we can take our attention away from where we don’t agree. I see their usefulness. I just don’t like them.
Don’t get me wrong. Most platitudes are nice expressions. Good things. In fact, they’re good by nature.
- God is with you.
- Let’s be generous.
- Let’s just get along.
- It’s all about ….relationships, love, etc.
- Let’s just agree to disagree.
My most recent disfavorite is “it’s all good.” That is code for, ‘It’s not, but I’m just not gonna let that bother me,’ or ‘I’m not gonna deal with it.’ Can we please just say what we mean? “I’m choosing to set this aside for now.”
Even the famed Serenity Prayer seems complicit in this:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”
It proposes that my choices are only these: to accept things as they are or to change things to the way I think they should be. Understood, but not spoken in this is, if I can’t change it, I should just accept it and God, grant me peace.
But most of life is not either/or. Platitudes encourage us to live it both/and. But most of life, indeed the courage of life, is to live in the 90% or more that requires navigating in the middle.
- deciding what needs changing.
- asking, what can I do to bring about or move things toward the change?
- asking, what new approach is not being considered?
- considering, how can I relate to this discourse in a healthy way?
- reflecting on, is there something in me that unbalances me in the consideration?
- asking myself, have I looked fully, listened intently and prayed consistently about what God is showing me here?
Sometimes we are guilty of looking at structures and supposing they are fixed, or approaches and considering them exclusive, or patterns and imagining they are carved in stone. So, seeing no alternative, we punt. With platitudes. Instead of working toward a middling or as yet unseen, solution. That may take a very long time. Longer than we have. Perhaps longer than we live.
That’s the risk we take when we refuse to white-wash, but also when we are people who fast and pray. Like Esther did when the destruction of her people seemed imminent and she, an innocent member of the king’s court, lacked the courage which would risk her life. In this impossible circumstance she heard,
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” ~ Esther 4:14
Esther didn’t say ‘it’s all good.’ Which she could have said, for herself. She entertained the idea that God might be doing a new thing and she might have been cast in the lead role. The lines she was to deliver would take inhuman courage and the actions, resolute attention. She would need to walk on the tightrope of God’s will and not look down.
She could have stayed on the sidelines and let bygones be bygones, forgive and forget, and just gotten over it. But platitudes ring hollow when life and death is at stake.
Times such as ours require people willing to navigate the middle, with all its dangers, while holding steadily to the One who promises,
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. ~ Isaiah 43: 19