Truth hurts enough without our help

I never wore expensive clothes when I worked at the library at Wichita State University. It wasn’t that we were unprofessional. I always looked nice. But we worked with ink daily, and no matter how hard you tried, you always ended up covered in it. So there was no point to spend money on expensive clothes when you were only going to ruin them.

It never failed. I’d help a patron at the desk, and then I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Smack dab on the tip of my nose would be a big smudge of ink. The person I was helping could have told me at any time. I wouldn’t have been offended. I would have been grateful. But people don’t like to speak up in those situations because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or making you feel inferior in some way.

Telling people an uncomfortable truth is never fun, and it’s rarely easy. But truth, unpopular or not, should never be intentionally hurtful. Truth hurts enough by itself; it doesn’t need us to make it worse.

Everyone knows the verse about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We quote it back and forth to each other all the time, but is it even possible to do?

I’m not an expert. But one thing I’ve learned about confronting someone with Truth is that your motivation matters.

I have known Christ-followers who have beaten me half to death, using Truth as a sledgehammer to pound me into submission. And on the other hand, I’ve known Christians who are willing to overlook the worst sins just to make me feel better about myself. Where’s the middle ground? Can you speak uncompromising Truth without doing lasting damage?

Well, what about the ink incident at the library? Why would you tell me that I had ink on my nose? To make me feel bad or to help me not look like a moron?

If your desire is to help me, you aren’t going to address me with self-righteous bravado. You aren’t going to insult me as you point out the ink on my nose. No, you’ll gently mention to me that I’ve got ink on my nose. And you might even relate a story about when something similar happened to you.

Gentle. Kind. Humble. And still true.

Confronting someone with Truth should never be about you (Philippians 2:3). It shouldn’t be about promoting yourself as an example to follow, and it should never be intended to humiliate them. Even if you’re talking to another Christ-follower, if the language you use doesn’t build them up or encourage them (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6), you aren’t drawing them back to God. Instead, you’re forcing them away.

Maybe what you’re saying is absolutely true. But if the truth you’re speaking is mixed up with cruel judgments, baseless assumptions, and biting sarcasm, you aren’t being kind. You’re being mean.

God expects us to live justly, yes (Micah 6:8-9), but we’re also supposed to love mercy and walk humbly. That means you look for opportunities to extend grace to people. It doesn’t mean you can compromise what God says is right, but it also doesn’t justify being mean-spirited.

That’s how you speak truth in love. It starts with your attitude toward God and your perspective on yourself. Before you confront anyone, before you take God’s Truth into battle, get those two things on the level. Make sure you and God are on the same page. Otherwise, it’s not about Him. It’s about you.

Any time you make life about yourself, you don’t leave any room for God to work.

But if you make it about Him, He’ll work it out. He’ll bring beauty from ashes. He’ll redeem what you forfeited. But you have to leave it in His hands first.

Blooming poppy at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it

The truth can be hard to take sometimes. It’s hard to tell the truth too, but if you don’t, you can get into a world of hurt. Honesty really is the best policy, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to say or hear.

We get used to thinking that we’re right about everything. Our choices. Our lifestyle. Our beliefs. But we aren’t right because we think we are. We’re right because we agree with God and what the Bible says, and it’s frighteningly easy to get off that path. That’s when we need someone to come alongside us and help us find the right way again.

But depending on how that person “helps” us, we may get straightened out or we may twist off even further.

Blooming poppy at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Blooming poppy at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:15.

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

Have you ever been in a situation where you know the person you’re talking to is messing up their life but you’re too scared to say anything about it? I’ve been there many many times, and only a handful of times have I had the courage to speak up about it. It’s not easy.

But whenever you end up in those situations, you should never hesitate to speak the truth. The truth being what God says in the Bible. But you need to take care in how you speak it.

You know you have control over your voice, right? You know you can control your tone and your volume? Maybe some people don’t realize that and they think they just have to sound angry all the time.  Or maybe they think people won’t take them seriously if they don’t sound angry.

Have you ever seen comments on Facebook or on news pages? Which comments do you take more seriously? The vicious, biting angry ones? Or the calm, rational ones? Honestly, the angrier someone sounds, the less likely I am to listen to them.

And if you take the truth and bludgeon people into submission, I’m not sure how effective that is either. Sure, maybe it works for a little while. You might be able to convince someone to do what’s right by using the truth like a hammer, but from what I’ve learned, that creates a temporary change in behavior. Not a permanent change of heart.

Truth is powerful enough to change people’s hearts on its own. It doesn’t need our help. There’s no strategy or plan of attack when you’re telling the truth. We just need to let Truth do the work, and we just need to get out of the way.

All we need to do is to remember why we’re intervening. Are you getting involved in someone else’s business because you feel responsible or obligated? Or are you doing it because you love them? If you love them, make sure they know it. If you love them, your tone and your voice and your words will express it. If you love them, you aren’t going to beat them down with your words. You’ll build them up.

No, the truth isn’t easy to speak, but you can speak it in love if you love the person you’re talking to.

So do it. Tell them the Truth. Tell them you love them. And then let it go. If they are going to listen, they will. If they won’t, they’ll do their own thing, and that is their choice. But one day, down the road when they come to their senses, they’ll remember.

But they probably won’t remember what you said. They’ll just remember how you said it.

If you’re going to say or write anything today, you’d better check this out.

Words are dangerous. They are powerful weapons that can build up or tear down people, organizations, families, companies, and relationships. And anyone who has the capability to wield words, spoken or written, has a great responsibility to use them in a way that is beneficial.

As a writer, I am always amazed at what words can do. English to me is one of the most fascinating languages in the world, mainly because it’s so weird. It has rules to follow that it only follows half the time. Its only standard of pronunciation is that there is no standard. Spelling is no less strange. And between denotation and connotation, it’s no wonder that native speakers have as much trouble understanding its depth and breadth as those who learn it later in life (those folks who have learned English as a second language, I applaud your efforts; it’s one of the hardest languages out there to learn to speak).

Anyone who speaks or writes, whether professionally or just for fun, should realize how powerful words are. In a single sentence–sometimes even a single word–you can either encourage or you can discourage. You can enrich or you can rob. You can heal or you can hurt. And before you wield the power of a word, you need to think it through very carefully.

In this modern age of Tweets and Facebook statuses and blogging and comment posting, people have become accustomed to writing or saying whatever they want whenever they want without the fear of repercussions. The Internet is the great equalizer, a source of anonymity where anyone can voice his or her opinion, no matter how hurtful, and have a captive audience.

That only means that today’s verse is truer than ever. Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

 As a Christ Follower who is also a writer, it’s my reponsibility to make sure that everything I write will be encouraging and enriching to others. Now, we need to make sure we understand what encouraging means there because it doesn’t mean to just say nice, sweet, feel-good things all the time. Encourage means to give someone courage. It means to tell the truth in love but not to pull punches when someone needs a good smack in the head.

The Amplified Version calls it speech that is “good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion.”

So I need to make sure that what I’m writing is true, first. And then I need to make sure that I’m presenting it in a way that will help people grow spiritually. I do believe that a blog is a good place to air out opinions, but at the same time just because I can use a blog as a place to say what I want to say doesn’t alleviate the responsibility I have to make sure what I’m writing is true and communicated in love.

But the responsibility to write and speak this way isn’t just for writers and speakers. It’s for everyone. Because everyone is going to speak today, and even those who don’t speak often are still going to write something. And in a culture where it’s so easy to be critical and even easier to say mean things to each other (even if they’re true), those who follow Christ need to live to a different standard. Even if what you have to say to others won’t make them happy, you can still communicate it in a way that is positive. If they take it negatively, that’s up to them, but you can still do your part and try to speak truth in love.

If it were impossible to do, God wouldn’t have told us to do it. Nothing is impossible with His help. Granted, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. And, boy, is it easy to say mean things. Easy and fulfilling sometimes, especially when someone else has been mean to you — but that road never pans out.

When you’re tempted to say or write something cruel, don’t. Say or write something encouraging instead. You never know where it might take you and you never know how you might help someone you didn’t even know was watching.