The “Ma’am” Dilemma

by Sami

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Tonight I sat outside at Starbucks drinking a coconut milk chai and enjoying beautiful fall weather after dropping my son off at work. Not long after I opened my Bible to Philippians, a young man in high school approached me with a question,

“Ma’am, my I use one of your chairs?”

I said, “Of course”, and he proceeded to let me know I was reading a good book. I agreed and then added, “Just don’t call me ma’am.”

Don’t worry, I followed that statement with a smile, but I still think I scared him a bit.

A Walking Contradiction

I know, I’m a walking contradiction.

From the time they could talk, I’ve taught my kids to use “ma’am” and “sir” whenever addressing anyone older than them. So why would I begrudge this young man whose wise parents obviously taught him to do the same?

Truth be told, I still think I just graduated from college. Even though my body and mirror dictate differently, my mind believes I can hang with anyone, especially the high school and college crowd.

With that one simple nicety, he unknowingly shocked me back into reality.

Reflecting on My Younger Years

It made me reflect back to when I was a young university professor in my early 20’s in South Florida. I distinctly remember one student from Texas who insisted on calling me “ma’am” and refused to call me by my first name, no matter how many times I told her it was OK.

She always responded with some version of, “My mother would beat me if she ever found out.”

So what are we to do when we learn one thing from someone we love, yet get a different directive from someone else we also respect?

Our Current Political Climate

Hear me out: it made me think of our current political climate. Actually, it can apply to politics at any time in our history.

I bet each of you know and love people who are equally passionate about their candidate, values and beliefs, even though they sit on opposite sides of the aisle. And yet, you respect them both.

When you find yourself in the middle of that situation, do you attempt to argue your way out of the conversation? You and I both know that doesn’t typically work.

Listen & Love Well

Instead, our objective should not be to push our view onto someone else, but listen and love them well. 

That being said, if they love and respect you as well, they will want to hear from you too. Don’t think of this as your chance to prove your point, but rather, share your heart.

Always Be Prepared

1 Peter 3:15 tells us to, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

What do you hear in this verse? I’ve always taken two things away from it:

  1. “Always be prepared…”: meaning “know why you believe what you believe” and be ready to share it when asked.
  2. Do this with gentleness and respect…”: people are not going to listen to what you have to say if they don’t like how you’re saying it.

So regardless of whether you agree with me or not, my prayer is that you’ll hear my heart. After all, it’s not my job to prove anything to you or shove my beliefs down your throat, but it is my responsibility to live authentically, respectfully and humbly…while giving space for others to do the same.


Read more of my devotions or catch up on past sermon notes.

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