‘Modest is Hottest’ & Other Christian Phrases Needing #Elimination

Modest is Hottest

Image Credit: Creative Commons, barnd

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Ok. This post is a tad cynical, but I must say us Christians have a way of using phrases that a.) no one else understands and that b.) lose meaning because of the frequency we use them. As a lover of language, I think it is vital to the lifeblood of our faith to learn to express ourselves in unique and new ways. We weren’t made to thrive on overused language nor speak to each other in slogans.

It’s easy to spout off Christian phrases to our struggling friends, “God has a plan”, “God loves you”, “He works all things together for good”, without really engaging with them.

It’s common to tell singles to “guard their hearts” or “have a quiet time” without thinking of the implications.

Or to combat homosexuality with the “hate the sin, love the sinner” catch-all that really doesn’t translate all that well. At least from what I’ve observed.

Words have the power to heal and to destroy. Words, as innocent as they are, in combination have the ability to change lives.

Or—as our mission statement says at Thomas Nelson—to  “inspire the world”.

I grew up hearing over and over “God loves you”. When life circumstances collided with this idea of a loving God watching out for me, I needed a new, truer way to think about God’s love. Regurgitating ‘God loves me’, wasn’t helping. So I prayed and that’s how I came up with “God is a good Dad.” I needed a picture of God as a loving Father, instead of a cruel punisher.

14 Christian Phrases that Need #Elimination:

1.) God has a plan! While I do believe this is true, it’s overused and in cases has lost meaning. Instead try: God sees you. This is not the end.

2.) You are on my heart. Translation? “You’re a hot mess I pity.” My friend said she hates when people say this to her. Also, don’t say this or “I’m praying for you” if you’re not. I’m guilty, what about you?

3.) God has a wonderful plan for your life. I used to be the queen of saying this because I worked for Campus Crusade (spiritual law #1). Albeit true, it can feel canned and cold.

4.) Guard your heart. Don’t tell single people this. Ever. It’s annoying and ill-defined. Try: “I really hope he doesn’t hurt you. Be careful”.

5.) I don’t feel called_____. This phrase is fine as long as it is genuine and what you really mean is, “I’m looking for an excuse”.  

6.) Examine your heart (especially to single people). No. No. No.

7.) God loves you. Try not to say this to singles after they’ve broken up or anyone going through something terrible. I love saying, “God is a good Dad” in these situations.

8.) Modest is hottest. Don’t even get me started on this one. Sharon Hode Miller wrote a beautiful article talking about how this is hurting Christian women. READ IT!

9.) Love on. “I just want to love on her…”—I hear it all the time and used to say it myself. What does that mean? Let’s talk less, and do more.

10.) God works in mysterious ways. Again, true, but not always helpful or empathetic.

11.) Let go and let God. I used to have a magnet with this phrase. Overused. If a phrase belongs on a magnet, then you probably shouldn’t go around spouting it off.

12.) Hate the sin, love the sinner. I’ve mostly heard this phrase used to talk about homosexuality. Are you actually loving the sinner? Or just speaking in slogans?

13.) When you aren’t looking…What? Nothing Biblical or true about God providing a spouse “when we aren’t looking”.

14.) Unspoken. Somewhat of a joke, but who used to sit in Bible study and say, “Unspoken” when it was your turn to say a prayer request? Michael and I laughed really hard about this the other night.

What would you add to the list?

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34 Responses to “‘Modest is Hottest’ & Other Christian Phrases Needing #Elimination”
  1. Tatuu says:

    Oh I’m so guilty! :)

  2. Blake says:

    God has a Plan or , “it’s just God’s plan” Drives me Crazy!!!!!

  3. Tonya Ruth says:

    This post could not have come at a better time!!! Unfortunately, I have used these phrases before, they are mostly just canned responses…when I don’t know what else to say. BUT I have had them said to me so many times and when I’ve expressed a hurt response to having them said, I have actually been “fussed at” for feeling that way. Those statements can be very hurtful. I think the ones that get me most at this time in my life are “God has a plan” and “Guard your heart”.

    Thanks so much for your honest writing and encouragement!! I’ve been following you for awhile now and I get more out of your posts then most of the books that I’ve read on singleness in the last 20 years. I am eagerly anticipating the book this fall!!

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Thanks for sharing, Tonya! I’m guilty too.

      You are amazing for being so excited about our book. We’d love to have you join our “launch team”. More details coming!

  4. Maggie says:

    I have had a few problems with people saying these generic things to me. I and when I am trying to talk to someone who needs to talk I try really hard not to just go to these. I try to get to the center of their attention, to show that I really do care, and I may weave those phrases in but they’re in the sentences that are trying to make a point or to follow a prayer on my heart.

    I don’t want to be that person who just spouts out those phrases, if I’m going to use these phrases and I really am thinking, I’m using them with other sentences and I believe when incorporated in a speech or prayer that really opens up the heart, I don’t see what’s wrong using one or two.

    I just don’t like it when that’s all people do.

    • Adam says:

      What about, “What’s your testimony?” After I became a Christian, people used to ask me this and I had no idea what they were talking about.

      • Maggie says:

        Ya I was really confused with that word. No one told me what one was until I I told my boyfriend (friend at the time) that I wanted to be part of the worship band and I got the paper and it asked what my testimony was. At that time I was still on the fence to Christ so I ended up never filling out the application.

  5. KKM says:

    “How’s your walk?” ugh, I can’t imagine how many nonbelievers we are pushing away with these generic phrases! Great post, Ruthie.

  6. Rachel says:

    Love this…what about “missional,” “intentional,” and “discipling/discipler”? I mean how many of us really truly understand the practical implications of these words?? and more than that, how many of us using these trendy Christian-ese phrases are really truly applying them in our lives and relationships…or are we just using them because some Christian leader who happens to be in the ministry spotlight threw the phrase out there and we thought it sounded nice/smart??

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Yes. Also, ill-defined words. I think that’s how most of these get started-and then we get lazy and just repeat!

  7. Jenny says:

    Oh what a great post (aren’t we all guilty?). I don’t like how people say, “hedge of protection”. Overused.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Ha, I forgot about that one, Jenny! It comes from the book of Hosea, but I agree it’s overused. Thanks for commenting.

  8. S. Rowley says:

    I really don’t like this post. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and I don’t understand why you would be so critical about what people choose to say. It’s their business, isn’t it? And don’t we have the choice to tell our friends we don’t like they way they are encouraging us?

    • Susan says:

      I don’t know if it is particularly what people choose to say. So often I find myself saying these things and not really thinking about their implications, or how they are impacting the person I am saying them to. I also think they are very surface level statements, and are like a band-aid that has been used so many times that it no longer sticks. People brush them off because they are over-used. They are all true, but I think it is important to say something that you really mean, and want the person to know. I want people to know that they are loved by God, but it is better said with verses, or reasons why we know God loves them. But we all accept encouragement differently, and if those encourage you then so be it. But I think the biggest point Ruthie was trying to get across was engaging with the words you were saying, or hearing.

    • Joanna says:

      Yes, it is their business, but people also need to know and take responsibility for the fact that their words have an impact. Many Christian cliches communicate questionable theology and/or (unintentionally) make peoples struggles harder by making them feel not listened to or understood or by giving counter-productive advice. It shouldn’t have to be the responsibility of the person on the receiving end to point out their lapses in thinking what they say through.

  9. Trish says:

    hahaha! Great post! I’d add “Maybe you need to pray more” to that list — how many times have we heard this after venting about the frustrations of singleness???

  10. Sarah says:

    Oh my goodness! Too funny! Flashback to middle/high school youth group!

  11. You’ve certainly covered all the main ones. Here’s another, specifically used when a loved one has died. “God needed them in heaven more than on Earth” SOoooo many theological issues with that one. (“God has a plan” or its variants are, of course, used here more often, but you’ve covered that more than well enough)

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Ew, I agree. Theological issues with that one for sure. Thanks for bringing this one to the discussion.

  12. Brian says:

    “Everything happens for a reason.” Really? Because God is micromanaging who wins American Idol? I just don’t like this phrase. It seems way too much like people using God just to feel better about mildly crappy stuff that happens, which is what atheists accuse us of doing. Maybe some things happen because people do bad stuff or because people didn’t like the song you chose for Broadway week.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      God’s not micromanaging the results of American Idol?? What?!? :)

      I actually hear more atheists say, “everything happens for a reason” verses Christians. Anyone else?

  13. Natalie says:

    This is so funny, but so so serious (as, I suppose, the best things are). I’ve seen friendships end over too many “I’m praying for you” statements and not enough actual prayer. I’ve seen some wonderful examples, though, of someone offering prayer and then praying on the spot. The recipient usually goes through a visual series of shock, embarrassment, and then relief.

    I read the modest is hottest article you mentioned- phenomenal. I’ve been looking for ways to address that very same issue with young women at my church. I WANT them dressing modestly because it makes ME look like a bad leader when we’re at the beach and I see them more than half naked running around with their brothers in Christ. And then I have to stop myself and remember both my reactions to being told “modest is hottest” (which were something along the lines of, ‘I’ll show you hottest!’) and also that their dress does not reflect me, nor am I responsible for introducing them to turtlenecks.
    I introduce them to Jesus; they are filled with the Holy Spirit; BOOM- the modesty issue is dealt with as a by product of sanctification.

    I could go on all day.

    Thanks for this incredibly well written, desperately needed piece. :)

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Natalie,

      Thanks for your comment! Friendships ending over “I’m praying for you”-I’m not sure how to respond to that. Wow.

      I’m so glad you liked the modest article. Sounds like you are in a tough position. I wrote about my experience with youth leaders and the female body here: http://ruthiedean.com/2013/01/27/your-body-is-not-the-problem/

      I used to work in ministry so I get the feeling of thinking the girls actions are representative of us. So difficult! It’s hard to grasp the truth that we aren’t responsible for changing hearts or actions, isn’t it?

      Oh thanks for reading. And commenting. Appreciate your encouragement!

  14. Joanna says:

    One that frustrates me is as a single person being told “As soon as you are content, God will send you your future spouse.” Yes, contentment is a good virtue to strive for (whatever your marital status) but the instruction is flawed in so many ways. Firstly, I think most of us would know people all along the emotional maturity scale who have ended up married. Secondly, it is a bit of a logical absurdity using contentment as a tool to get something you are discontent about. And perhaps most sinisterly, there is an undertone to it which while maybe not intended is definitely there which implies that marriage is a reward for holiness and singleness is a punishment and remedial bootcamp for those who haven’t got it together yet.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Oh Joanna, I hate that one too. Esp. since I used to believe it! I was far from content when I met Michael:)

  15. Jess says:

    What is God saying?….well, it is a good question but it just puts too much pressure on me. Especially when I know have been distant from God coz of various reasons. It makes me feel like I am not a better Christian if am not able to answer coz simply I have not heard from God!

    Wow! now I know what words I should avoid :-)

  16. Bek says:

    Haha, nice! In my four years at a Christian college, I’ve come to notice that people frequently say “God is good!” (especially in facebook posts) whenever something great happens. For instance, they start dating someone or get a job or do well on an assignment. For example, “I just got an internship with this company I’ve always been wanting to work with. God is so good!”

    When there’s no context supplied for the “God is good!” post, it usually means the person has just begun a new dating relationship. Am I just being cynical now? No, seriously, I’ve seen that more than a few times! know the intention behind this phrase is to bring glory and thanks to God instead of just saying “I’m super duper happy and thankful and want to sing it to the world!” But I do think that despite good intentions, saying “God is good” only in certain context makes it seem like God’s goodness is dependent on our circumstances. What about when bad things happen? Or on neutral days? God is still good. His goodness is not dependent on our life circumstances. So the use of this phrase ONLY when life is awesome, referencing gifts God has given, seems a little bit troubling to me.

    So that’s a Christian-y phrase I question based on how it is used – although I certainly agree with the words themselves. :)

  17. K.Jo says:

    One that always gets me is “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
    Um, sorry, but this is the same God that asks us to lay down our lives for Him. Seems weird that He would demand everything we have yet not want to overburden us.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Love this one! So many times it does feel like He’s giving us more than we can handle . . . and this advice isn’t helpful when it comes from someone who has a smooth sailing life.

  18. Greg says:

    Ugh; yes, Christianese…may it die a swift and painful death! One reason why I love it when new Christians pray in public; they just pray exactly what they’re thinking and feeling. Raw. From the heart. I wish I could unlearn the “lingo” and pray with that level of candor and newness before God.

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