Another day, another post about speaking the truth in love. It seems my ears and heart have been particularly tuned to it in recent years. It so often pops up in culture and conversations. Most encounters don’t specifically use the phrase, speak the truth in love, possibly because the context in which I encounter the struggles involve people trying to veer around the phrase. It seems more important to rationalize whatever pieces of the phrase a person wants to emphasize.
Want to be harsh? Talk about speaking truth. Want to be kind? Talk about love. Want to do things your own way? Talk about speaking truth. Want to err toward others? Talk about love.
Yes, I know those are generalizations and are not always the case. I often encounter a person explaining what truth and love actually seem to be. If we can define truth and love in our own ways, we can respond in truth and love in the ways we define them. In a conversation I recently heard, someone said, “He’s not living in reality. He needs to know the truth of what’s happening. He deserves it.” I also heard someone say, “But he doesn’t deserve to be punched by your truth.”
Being confronted with truth can feel like a punch. That’s not the same as being delivered by a punch. We experience accountability as a punch because it’s difficult to face what needs to change in our lives. It’s difficult to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the ways we have negatively impacted others. But feeling gut-punched doesn’t mean the person even clenched a fist. They might love us deeply and be as gentle as possible with the truth. How we respond says a lot.
- Do we immediately get defensive?
- Do we blame the person, claim he/she doesn’t know the whole story, discount their experience, minimize their pain if we’ve personally hurt them?
- Do we immediately jump into an apology to ease the situation even though we might qualify it with phrases like, “I’m sorry if you took it that way” or “I can’t help it if they are overly sensitive”?
- Are we willing to reflect before we respond?
We can be honest and admit hearing the truth hurts and is perhaps unsettling while committing to consider it more over time. We can be respectful enough to say we want to process it well before responding more thoroughly. If we don’t, we might just verbally or emotionally punch the other person and harm him or her unnecessarily. And that’s not even being punched by your truth, because you likely haven’t had time to get to the core of what the truth of the situation is. You need time to consider the best way to approach the other person.
Not one of us has the corner market on truth. There is always misunderstanding to peel away and truth to reveal. We’re still learning—always—if we’re willing. Truth is defined and fully embraced by God alone. Love is defined and fully expressed by God alone. But he invites us into as much of both as we can possibly fathom in our lifetimes. Let’s get to it.