The sorta, kinda fallacy: Making space for grace by owning our failures

We have a lot of what I would call filler words and phrases in the English language.

These are words and phrases we use for a variety of reasons in conversation. Oftentimes, we use them because we really aren’t sure what we want to say, so we fill the conversational space with these placeholders in order to buy ourselves time to figure out what we actually want to say.

At other times, we use them out of habit. Perhaps there was a purpose to them when we began using them, but over time, they just became default features in our social interactions. A few such words are “well,” “just,” “like,” “I mean” and “you know.”

These words/phrases, while annoying to the grammarians among us, are fairly benign and harmless. They are, in effect, empty words. They neither add meaning to nor subtract meaning from a sentence.

There are some filler words, however, that I believe are more problematic. They are still used out of habit or as a nervous response in conversation, but rather than being empty, they serve to reduce the impact of the words that follow.

Two such words immediately come to mind, and they are often used in tandem. If we use the popular phonetic spelling, they are “kinda” and “sorta.” More properly, they are “kind of” and “sort of.” These words form the foundation of what I would like to call “The Kinda, Sorta Fallacy.” It is a subtle lie we tell ourselves and others to distance ourselves from responsibility for our words and actions.

Consider these examples, if you will. We didn’t “kinda” break great-grandma’s lamp while we “sorta” played ball in the house. We broke great-grandma’s lamp while playing ball in the house. We didn’t “kinda” get a ticket because we were “sorta” speeding. We got a ticket because we were speeding. We didn’t “kinda” betray our friend’s trust by “sorta” talking behind their back. We betrayed our friend’s trust by talking behind their back.

No one ever “kinda, sorta” did anything. We did or we did not. Our usage of kinda and sorta may create a thin veil, a smokescreen of sorts, that protects us from feelings of guilt and negative public perception in the moment, but it also tends to leave behind a residue that tarnishes our integrity. No one is fooled by our weak defensive front. In fact, our efforts do little more than enhance the reality of our guilt while making us look foolish in the process.

I realize that to some degree, I am making a mountain out of a mole hill. At the same time, I think there is something important to be learned within the principle being presented.

Modern Christian culture, in its attempts to demonstrate grace, goes to great lengths to avoid the attribution of guilt for wrongdoing. This is in large part an overcorrection made in response to the legalistic Christianity fostered by streams of fundamentalism in previous decades.

But as is often the case, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. In fact, our effort to erase guilt has the unfortunate effect of rendering grace unnecessary. Grace, the unmerited favor, mercy and love of God, is only necessary in the shadow of our sin. And the Bible clearly and unambiguously tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We didn’t “kinda, sorta” fail to meet God’s standards of holiness. We absolutely and without question failed.

We need to stop lying to ourselves and others in little and big ways. We need to both perceive and present ourselves with full honesty and integrity. We need to own our faults and failures while encouraging others to do the same. We need to seek restoration when we fall short, making space for others to offer forgiveness and opening avenues for course correction as we move into the future.

We don’t just “kinda, sorta” need the grace of God and those around us. We deeply and consistently need it.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].