Buts Really Get in the Way Sometimes

I’m not a very cynical person by nature. Most of the time, I’m pretty optimistic, actually. .I love to recognize the potential in the people around me. I enjoy dreaming about future possibilities. It doesn’t take me very long to see the good in the bad.

Yet sometimes, my pessimistic side comes out.

One of the places this can occur is when I am reading the Bible. Too many times, I read verses, and instead of enjoying their beauty and depth, I focus on the “buts” in my head.

You know, the “buts.” The voices that say things like, “But that’s not the way life really works.” Or “But no one really feels that way.” Or “But what about the other times?

These buts can be good. They can cause me to dig deeper, explore, and not take the surface answer as the best answer.

But these buts can also make me think I’m smarter than the Bible.

I forget to treat the biblical writers as intelligent individuals that also knew about these exceptions. Yet, the exceptions and the buts did not hinder them from expressing their feelings of praise.

Psalm 18 is beautiful and grand. It speaks of God’s dramatic rescue of His servant, David. Yet, sometimes when I read it, the buts get in the way of me seeing its power.

When I read this verse,

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies. – Psalm 18:3

I think, “But God doesn’t always save when we call. What about those times?”

Well, David knows that, too. In Psalm 13, he wondered how long God would hide His face. He pleaded with God to no longer let his enemies triumph over him.

David’s knowledge that God does not always rescue in the way and at the time we want Him to does not stop him from praising God when salvation does come.

Or what about these verses?

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin. – Psalm 18:20-23

They make me think, “But David is not blameless. No person is blameless.”

Well, David knows that too. He writes many Psalms of confession, the most famous of which is Psalm 51, written after David has an affair with Bathsheba. Plus, this Psalm is an adaptation of 2 Samuel 22, which is clear about David’s sins.

David’s knowledge of his sinfulness does not hinder him from seeing himself the way God sees him: forgiven. He has sinned, but He has also confessed. He has sacrificed and sought God’s grace. He can leave those sins in the past and not dwell on them any longer.

So now, I want to leave some of the buts behind. Can I challenge you to do the same thing?

Try diving into this Psalm without cynicism. Work to praise God for what He does, without thinking about what He doesn’t do. Attempt to appreciate the times you see God moving in your life, without dwelling on the times He has seemed silent.

Do you ever let buts get in the way? How do you think we can let them go?

Walk through the Psalms is a series reflecting on the beautiful and timeless poetry found in the middle of the Bible. It is an intentional study of God’s Word, grounded in the belief that God gave us the Bible so we could read it and think about it, even when that is difficult.

relational pessimism

In most of life, I tend towards optimism. I dream big dreams. I see how bad circumstances can have a good outcome. I believe I can get 10 pounds of potatoes into a 5 pound bag. There is one area, though, where my outlook tends to be negative: friendships.

I have relational pessimism.

When I get together with moms I don’t know for a play date, I assume it won’t go anywhere after that. When I don’t hear from a friend for awhile, I assume it’s because they don’t value my friendship. When I go into a social setting with lots of people, I assume people don’t want to talk to me.

My pessimism is a wall. I have set it up over the years as a way to protect my hopes from being shattered. But the wall I’ve created blocks my view. My relational pessimism keeps me from seeing potential in my fellow human beings.

Believe it or not, the person who is making me realize this about myself, and making me want to change, is my son. Since we moved, we are all trying to make new friends. We are in that boat together. And while I am being pessimistic, he is being optimistic. The other day, when we were on our way home from preschool, he said some of the most powerful words about friendship that I have ever heard. When talking about another boy in his class, Cameron said,

“He’s my friend. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

What a beautiful picture of childhood faith and optimism. He is seeing this other boy not in light of the possible hurt, but in light of the possible relationship. He is viewing his current reality through the eyes of potential future that is worth pursuing. And, he is basing a care for someone not based on what they have done for him, but simply based on who that other person is.

Friendships are tricky. They can lead to hurt feelings. But they can also lead to beauty and grace. God created us to be in community with others. When we stifle that, we are hindered from being the person God made us to be, and we are hindered from loving the way God made us to love.

God loved us before we did anything to deserve it. God has always related to us in light of our potential, not our current state. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God also says that when we live in community, and love in the same way, that is what draws us closer to him. Friendships are worth the risk.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. – 1 John 4:10-12