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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Watch Your Mouth!

There are lists in the Bible, lists of things that make ladies with very styled hair clutch their pearls and thank the sweet Lord that they don’t do those things on those lists. What an imagination the New Testament writers must have had, because such depravity would never cross their minds. Maybe it would cross their lips, while they lean in to speak in those dropped voices referencing those people who would find themselves in those sort of deviant situations. It all wraps up nicely with a promise to pray for that person, but as the week slips by, so does the promise to pray, and by the time Sunday rolls around there is only this lingering sense that there had been a promise to say something to God about someone truly wicked, but what was that? And the prayers go up for health and happiness for themselves and their family, the hurt that drove the subject to the brokenness that landed them in that list gone from anyone’s mind, except that poor soul’s own mind.

Now going into this, I want to be transparent. While some people pound the pulpits and cry out against the very obvious ills of the world, it is not often that I hear a sermon telling me to watch my mouth, and truly, truly, I need to hear that more than I need to be told not to drink or fight or cheat or steal. The moment I take my focus of God, I know it because I can hear it in my speech. I am harsh and hateful, and I am 9 times out of 10 pointing out the flaws in others as my language gets nastier and nastier.

There is this sense that words are just words and that vulgarity is just sort of something that humanity assigns in an attempt to separate us from them. In high school, I learned from my theatre teacher in a lesson on language and story telling that many of the words we consider to be vulgar came about because they were simply words used by other rougher cultures and so those guttural sounding words, associated with those barbarians, were labeled as vile. Not because the words themselves were evil, but because they were associated with the enemy.

Yes, that is a part of the development of language, but it isn’t the whole picture. We live in this space between words are just words and the very real truth that words have value and weight. If words are just words, then why would we dive deeply into a fictional word able to see the tiniest detail in that land of one book, but in another we read a few paragraphs and nap it shut. Why do people put words and not simply images on protest signs? Why do we repeat seemingly sacred groupings of words at important life events, like weddings or graduations? Why would it matter if your parent called you their sweet baby, light of their life or if they called you that brat who won’t shut up?

It’s easy to recognize that words are not just words. They are representations of what we think and what we feel, what we hold as truth and what we hold as valuable. They make change and they mark change. You see, if words were just words, they would start in your mouth. But words aren’t just words, they begin in your heart. We turn them over in our minds, arrange them in an order, put them out in the world and hope for the best, because there is no taking them back, not really.

One of the hardest lessons of my life I’ve had to learn is that I can’t weigh out other people’s words on my own scale. The level of anger and hatred it would take for me to say some of the nastiest things I can think of is not the same level it would take for someone else.

When a child is mad at their parent and screams “I hate you!” a parent doesn’t scream that back at their child, because they understand that the child doesn’t mean it and that the weight of the parent saying that to a child would be devastating blow, but the weight of a child saying it to the parent is a tiny flick, something that can be ignored.

I had a friend who saved “I love you” in its romantic use for when she got engaged. Did she not feel love before that? Of course not. But she held those words to a higher weight than most, because she recognized the impact on her heart if she used them lightly.

The Bible has spoken few words so true to my life as the message “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” I have been brought back time and time again to this concept over the past 2 decades, and while I believe that God perfects us and gives us the power of the Spirit to overcome our struggles, I have the sense that I will be reminded of this for many years to come.

I have been made keenly aware in the past few weeks just how many verses there are in the Bible warning against using words carelessly. In fact, in many of those lists of actions the Bible warns against that make those ladies faint end with a warning about gossiping or slander, about lying or stirring up trouble. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. And watch your mouth.

I was back and forth for years speaking and apologizing, or talking and justifying before it finally became clear to me. I can’t get my tongue in line. It’s just not possible. If I am a sailboat, I will never be able to control that sail and that can be a terrible thing because it directs my route. The only thing I can do is to tether the line to the Word and let Him hold it.

God gives us His Spirit and along with that His power, but over and over, more times than I can count, when The Spirit is mentioned in the Bible, the very first evidence of His presence is a change in speech. The spirit comes and the people praise. They speak about God. They rejoice. They spread His message. And if they are doing that, they aren’t gossiping, fighting, lying, or any of the rest of it. It are almost always the first result of being filled by His Spirit.

Because I see that so clearly, it has shown in my life that when I lose control of my speech, the first thing I need to do is re-tether that line. If this is something that you see as a struggle for you, if you have an interest in seeing if there is something to this, if there is even the slightest needling in your mind that maybe you need to evaluate the weight of your words, then let me challenge you to take these steps and put them into practice over the next week.

1. Open your Bible. Put your mind on Him. If you think you don’t have the time, think about your commute. That’s plenty of time to listen in. You can use the internet to play sermons or read books or to just read straight scripture.
2. When someone asks for prayer, stop everything. Don’t say “PRAYERS!” and stick a little hand emoji and move on with life. That is not praying. Stop and pray for that person right then and there. Better yet, ask someone how you can pray for them. It will occupy your mind and it will use your words for something positive.
3. Just be quiet. If your words aren’t ripe, don’t pick them. If you need time to respond to someone, just say that. . A wise saying is “Better to stay quiet and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” It’s better to wait and say the right thing than say something you have to do damage control over later.
4. Ask God to prepare you conversations in advance and to help you listen for His voice throughout your day.

In fact, as I close this, I want to share a prayer that I pray which helps me refocus. Feel free to take it and form it to your language and give it as your own.

God,  give me the conversations You want  me to have today. Help me hear what You have to say to me. Use our words to encourage each other and to glorify you. It’s in Your name I pray. Amen.

What I Teach My Kids About Lying

When Frank was a toddler he tried it a few times. It was in the realm of “No, I didn’t pull the cat’s tail” and “I don’t know who ate all the candy” in those days, but from the onset of the effort, I knew I was not going to raise a liar. Even a small cat tail, candy sneaker liar.

There in the little album his children’s pastor had made of memory verses was this. “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth. Proverbs 12:22.”  Both had hear Bible stories their whole life, but this was perhaps the very first verse I taught both of my kids. Maybe I should have started with a different memory verse, something softer, more grace filled. But at the end of the day, it is vitally important to me that they understand this…The Kinzers are truth tellers.

I had Frank repeat it back to me over and over whenever I caught him in a lie. He quickly gave up the attempts at lying as a toddler. He was unashamedly honest for years to follow. He took this truth telling quite seriously. And living life as the parent of an adamant truth teller…well, let’s just say, if you say you were late because of car trouble, you better go yank out some sort of nonessential bit of your car, because as I pointed out above, the Kinzers are truth tellers, and now we had a little pair of eyes to really keep us honest.

I have never really been much of a liar. Sure there were a few times I can point to in  my childhood, but I also remember the accompanying sickness I felt when I did lie. Frank and Molly have each had their moments where I must turn to them and say “What did you just do?” and they inevitably say “I lied.” And in those moments they reflect what we’ve taught them.

1.    Do something wrong, get in trouble once. Do something wrong and lie about it, get in trouble twice.
2.   God hates lying lips, and so does Mama.
3.   A well crafted truth intended to deceive is the same as a lie.
4.   Come clean and tell the truth and we can work out the problem.

The thing that frustrates me is that we spend all this time trying to teach our kids not to lie, and then we live in a society full of adult liars. Or listening to people wonder what’s going on with their kids lying to them, when you know full well that they themselves have no trouble lying to others. It’s even the most frustrating part of watching tv. They use lies as a plot device and it’s so obvious that it’s going to cause a big mess, and yet the characters do it.

And furthermore, it is of greater annoyance when people can’t grasp the concept that to speak love without truth is a lie, but to speak truth without love is no truth at all.

Here is a bit of truth this cold November night. If you lie, so will your kids. If you lie, things will go badly. If you lie, you turn yourself into a buffoon, because the truth will out and you will be held in account.

This may not be the finest thing I’ve ever written, but these are tonight’s thoughts.

Tell the truth. Just tell the truth.