True, But Not Helpful

Editor's Note: Today's post is from my very good friend Matthew "Happy" Hiatt. Matthew serves the church in Burns, TN. I am grateful that he allowed me to run this article. - mcw The Freed-Hardeman statute of grade limitations has probably expired, so it’s safe to share this story. When a college student is faced with an essay question for which he does not know the real answer, he frequently employs a strategy I like to refer to as “Shock and Awe.”

“Shock and Awe” is where you write about every single thing you can think of that might have some relationship with the question at hand. For some teachers, Shock and Awe was a great strategy for maximizing a score on a question for which your knowledge was minimal. Other teachers, however, were savvy to the scam.

One teacher in particular had a specific response she would mark if she detected Shock and Awe. She would mark the question with three large letters: T B I. She wasn’t calling the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, rather, she was saying that your answer was true, but irrelevant.  It was an answer—just not to the question being asked. She called those answers “unhelpful.”

Unhelpfulness isn’t limited to college test questions. Have you ever experienced behavior that’s true but unhelpful?

Let me share some examples of less-than-helpfulness. One of the ladies decides to help decorate the building. So she comes up and spends a few hours putting together flowers and other décor, but she leaves a huge mess, giving our janitor an extra hour of work. Did she do something good? Yes, but she wasn’t helpful.

The elders respond by having a three-hour meeting trying to determine a set of rules for how the building should be decorated. Within their scope of authority? Yes. Helpful? No.

I teach in the jail for several hours a week. I study as best as I can in the situation. I use the best materials that I can find. I baptize many—but inevitably, some of those turn out to be no more than “jail house conversions” who relapse upon release. A deacon who never has been there comes to report on the work and says, “Well none of them are coming here to church, so are you really doing anything?” He says something that’s true, but he’s not helpful. He’s hurtful. Rather than offering a solution, he pontificates on the problem.

After the Sunday sermon you hear, “It was too long.” “It was too short.” “It was too complicated.” “It was too dry.” “Too many stories.” Is there anything that can be done about it now? Their critique may be true, but it’s definitely not helpful.

We can major in minors, can’t we? Rather than noticing the 200 people who, from my human perspective, worshipped in spirit and in truth, we obsess about the one whose child misbehaved. We say something regretful about the lack of parental discipline. True? Absolutely. Helpful? Not in the slightest.

Jesus warned about the Pharisees saying, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with a finger.” (Matthew 23:4). It’s likely their teaching was true, but not helpful.

Scriptures are clear: be helpful. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2).

We ought to be helpful people. We ought to be true people. Maybe that’s part of what Paul was getting at when he wrote about speaking the truth in love. Let’s think carefully about what we say and do so that we can be truly helpful!

— Matthew Hiatt