Is Speaking Truth Love?

In college I went with a group of kids to hear a speaker at EMU. I have long since struggled to remember if it was Max Lucado or Phil Yancey, but those are two names written down the sides of bookshelves quite frequently in those days. Most often I credit this bit of wisdom shared there to Max Lucado, but I’m covering my bases here. The words are clear, the speaker is fuzzy.

The words were: We have to speak truth in love. To speak love without truth is a lie, but to speak truth without love…that is no truth at all.

Let me say them again: We have to speak truth in love. To speak love without truth is a lie, but to speak truth without love…that is no truth at all.

For this strong minded, loud mouthed little girl, that was a shifting comment. If you knew me in college, you could rightly describe me as someone who speaks her mind. She will tell it like it is. She says what others are thinking, but won’t voice. If the truth cuts like a knife and leaves a wound, I was certain the other person would be reminded every time they looked at the scar I’d caused and be reminded of truth.

I can remember those days like they were just a year or two ago. Because, probably they still were. Truth, friends, TRUTH!!!! I know truth! And people need to know it. They cannot go astray. They cannot be misled. And where they are veering to the left of the right it was my responsibility to correct where I saw deviance from the most strict, most honest line.

I loved that quote from college but for many years when someone would quote from Romans “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do” I would hear my heart cheer in response, “My mouth, y’all. Welcome to my mouth.”

I’d flip from Romans to James 3 and read “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Then, knowing the struggle to do what I want to do, but doing what I don’t want to do while trying to tame an uncontrollable beast…I was certain there was no hope of overcoming this.

Sure, I gained some manner of control and learned how to restrict my comments and opinions so that I could generally function as a socially appropriate person, but truth would get me every time and I would be unable to hold it in. If I am commanded to speak truth, then every time you choose silence when you have truth is a lie. Or so I thought.

I want to preface what I’m about to say with this disclaimer: What I am working through in my head does not involve situations where one must speak truth to defend a victim or to report illegal activity. Does. Not. And I am in no way encouraging people to lie. I absolutely believe in the high value of honesty and the piercing impact it has when employed.

But, here is the thing. I would see people look at the mark I’d left behind when I’d whipped out truth, and they didn’t seem to be grateful for the reminder that they should be realigning themselves. In fact, they would often go the other way. But why? I’d spoken truth. I’d even been intentional to do it in a kind and compassionate manner.

The past few days I’ve been reflecting on the mighty and terrible power of speaking one’s mind. I’ve reflected on a few moments in the past years or two where I’ve learned more about controlling my mouth than I ever learned in the first 34 years.

I had many stories to reflect on. Times I’ve told the truth and it made people mad. Time I’ve told the truth and the person didn’t hear me. Times I’ve told the truth and people have acted like they agree to get me to be quiet.  How I have felt the burden for truth. How I have felt the responsibility to say what “needs to be said.” How I have held to the belief that to hold your tongue is to lie, every time.

My friends, just because you know something to be true, it does not mean that the way to speak truth in love is to open your mouth. The quote that is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is true: Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.

I have in the past year taken some theological questions via email with a dear friend and spiritual leader in my life, if no longer official by certificate of membership, his grace and wisdom is a voice I will always covet to speak into this walk. I have taken via email the same questions to another spiritual leader in my life, and I don’t know why I think the answers will ever be any different from one to the other, it helps to have these two voices who are willing to help me hash things out and help me simplify the matter at hand. The topics have varied, but as I look at our conversations in the rearview mirror, I am finding that they all boil down to this…

Me: I have a truth and the rest of the world won’t conform to it.
They: Extend grace.
Me: Also, they can be mean and hypocritical because they lack the understanding of truth that I have!
They: Extend grace anyway.
Me: I could extend grace better if I could accompany it with truth.
They: Are you willing to look at your truth, to lean in and to be open to a truth that is outside of your very capable brain?
Me: Yes, but I’m right.
They: Ok.

And a few days later the conversation changes.

Me: I may have been wrong in my analysis of truth.
They: Ok. Tell me.
Me: New truth. Presentation of evidence. Conclusion.
They: Excellent! You have done well to lean in on this!
Me: I don’t feel so much like I need to argue about it with that person anymore….but it’s still not fair that they get to be mean and hypocritical.
And then this…..
This every time….
They:  Whose problem is that?
Me: Oh.

While processing a theological point in the past month, I went through this same conversation sequence with one of these great men and when we reached the point where he said, “I think that your confusion over other people’s responses is their problem… not yours.”

Oh my heart. Or rather, oh my ears. They were finally open. This person has said this to me for nearly a decade in one way or another. He has spoken that same truth over and over while I didn’t hear him.

You know what I have heard though? I have heard him allow me my strongly held beliefs, even when they are the exact opposite of my own. I have heard him encourage me to follow God’s word to me and God’s leading on my life even if it points me in different directions than he’d chose for his own.

But what speaks the loudest to me from both of these men is this. I have heard them not say things. They have held their tongues and chosen words carefully to be as clear as possible without giving more information than I needed at the time. They have not used the application of truth from their lives to attempt to realign my beliefs or actions into a forced submission of what they think and how God has convinced them to walk.

What has spoken to me louder than any other truth they’ve helped me find is when they’ve chosen to reserve their words and allow God to speak to me. 

I have stayed in the conversation because they have not told me to be quiet by pressing their rightness over my wrongness. They answer my questions as honestly and reflective of their interpretations to the best of their abilities, and those have helped me process concepts. But concepts are concepts.

What is speaking into my heart, what is changing me, what is absolute proof to me that entire sanctification exists alongside of ongoing gradual sanctification while I watch layer after layer being pulled back on my life, is the love, is the grace, and is the commitment to allowing God to be the truth giver, and not having the arrogance to think they have all the answers, not every story needs to be told. Neither do they bear the burden of responsibility to change my mind.

I am slowly but surely learning, it is my responsibility to work out my own salvation, not everyone else’s around me. I am slowly learning how to speak truth in love by closing my mouth. I am slowly learning that if I want to communicate truth in love I have to be committed to a conversation that could last for years, to play the long game, because truth is eternal, truth outlasts a conversation. I am learning to trust God more in this way.

I will close with how I responded to the comment that my confusion over other people’s responses being their problem, not mine.

It is something to consider that the more I learn, the more I come across the idea that the rightness and wrongness of the rest of the world is not my problem. I should write that on an index card and pin it to my desk.

Today I think I shall do just that.  🙂

Speak truth, y’all, and now how to do it with your mouth closed.

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