Earlier this month, I spent two weeks teaching again at the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction. While the days are long, I relish this opportunity to take an integral role in forming the next generation of spiritual guides. Our world is in such need of people who listen with compassion and support to people seeking to be faithful in their relationship with God.

More than once during our sessions, the question of pronouns came up. In order to be compassionate and supportive listeners, we need to meet an individual where they are, psychologically and spiritually. This includes using pronouns that fit with their experience. One example is the use of “they” instead of “he” or “she” when referring to someone in the third person.

During the discussion, I felt called to speak up. In my work as an editor, I’ve been addressing this for a while now. There is certainly a place in the English language for the generic use of “their,” as I did in the prior paragraph (go back and reread it—did you even notice?). In fact, the use of singular “they” pronouns has a long and established history, as recounted here. Interestingly, it parallels the now-well-established use of “you” for references of any gender—and “you,” which once was plural, became singular back in the seventeenth century!

As I’ve noted before, it is human nature to resist change. We become comfortable with what we know. Altering established patterns takes time, intention, and effort. Yet, if we wish, like good spiritual directors, to be compassionate and supportive of our fellow humans—of any gender, we need to make that effort. We need to meet people where they are.

I invite you to prayerfully consider your relationship with pronouns. If you were raised with “he” and “she” (and most of us were), can you be (or begin to be) intentional about using “they” instead? Who among your family or friend circle might recognize in you a supportive ally if you were to make this single change in your use of language?

We were taught as children that words have power. Let’s be consciously and compassionately powerful with our use of pronouns—for the sake of all who struggle to be seen for who they authentically are.

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