Saying Less When You Could Say More

A few days ago I was going through old files on my office computer, and came across a “note” I had written several years ago in response to a member of my church who wrote to complain about the volume level at our 11:00am service.

This “note” was actually a full page, single-spaced, size 11 font, extended margins, behemoth. The middle paragraph was about eighteen lines thick. And to fit as many words as I could on one piece of paper, I reduced the space between paragraphs.

It was ridiculous.

But it wasn’t only the number of words and the length of the letter that was over-the-top, it was also my tone. Reading it now, after four or five years have passed, my defensive tone jumps out of almost every sentence. I quote this person’s original letter back to them in several spots, only to answer with a literary kick to the face.

It felt good to write it, I’m sure. It probably even felt good to stick it in the mail. But It must not have felt very good when the person opened it and read it, with my name signed on the bottom.

I’m learning (or trying to learn) that in those instances when I have a lot to say to someone who offers me criticism, I should actually say very little. This doesn’t mean being dismissive or curt – it means only saying what I need to say, all out of cross-centered humility.

This person’s note to me (if I remember correctly) was actually pretty harsh. In reply, I wanted to tell this person all about how hard we work to find a good mix, about how the acoustics in the room are tricky, about how our floor monitors put out a lot of noise, about how the bible encourages stillness and loudness, about how I don’t want anyone’s ears to hurt, etc. And so I did tell them all of these things. In really long sentences and thick paragraphs.

Bad idea. When you write someone a lengthy, sharp, multi-point missive, it can have the effect of hitting them like a punch in the gut when they read it. And while you might not ever admit this out loud when you’re writing it, you’re actually kind of hoping it comes across like one.

The fundamental problem? It’s gospel-less.

When Jesus was crucified in our place, there was a lot he could have said. And he would have been right to say it. But all he said was: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus, perfect in every way, having been condemned to death on a cross, responds by showing grace.

And it’s because of that cross that we are forgiven, we are freed from the idea that there is anything we can do to make ourselves righteous, and we are able to respond to criticism of all forms with grace, humility, and forgiveness.

There is a lot of “good news” in the Gospel. One piece of good news is that we don’t need to overreact and fret over criticism by writing ridiculously long “notes” in reply. There’s no worse criticism than knowing we deserved death – and Jesus has already paid it and raised us to life with him. Your responses to criticism should reflect the freedom that comes from this. Do they?

3 thoughts on “Saying Less When You Could Say More

  1. Cyrus W June 22, 2010 / 7:27 pm

    Thanks for this post, Jamie!

    So, if this were to happen today, how would you reply and what would you say? Just a “thanks for telling me your concerns?” Or maybe trying to explain some of the points but in a loving tone?

    – Cyrus

    P.S. Thanks for sharing the most awesome worship conference promo ever. That was pretty cool!

    • Jamie Brown June 22, 2010 / 10:21 pm

      Hey Cyrus. First, I’d hand-write her a card. Her letter to me was a hand-written card, so it would be appropriate to respond in the same fashion. The advantages of a hand-written note are that (1) it’s more personal, and (2) you’re forced to say less. As for what I’d say… probably a “thank you sandwich.” That is – a thank you at the beginning and ending, which my response in the middle. My response would be, basically, (1) I hear what you’re saying, (2) what you’re saying is important to me, and (3) here is what I’m currently doing or will do or have done with respect to this issue.

      Hope that helps.

  2. Cyrus W June 22, 2010 / 11:13 pm

    Awesome, thanks!

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