Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
– Ephesians 4:15
Speaking the Truth in Love: What it Isn’t
Have you ever agonized over something you needed to say to someone but couldn’t figure out how to do it? Maybe you thought about it obsessively, and the more it festered the angrier you got. Maybe you practiced all the ways you were going to finally tell this person what you really thought, all the while working yourself into a rage. When you finally confronted him or her, your message came out in a barely coherent spray of venom. Yikes! Even you didn’t expect that.
Or maybe you finally confronted that person, your feelings buried and lost in a tangle of words. Everything you said was so sugar-coated you couldn’t be sure they really got the message. So ineffective! You then ended up mad at yourself!
Speaking the truth in love is not a justification to put others down and verbally abuse them. Some people pride themselves in “always speaking my mind”, but in reality they are obnoxious verbal bullies. Their intention is to shame the other person and make them feel inferior. When the person on the receiving end is hurt or offended, they reason, “Well, I guess he just can’t handle the truth!”
Speaking truth is not so we can feel superior, and bully people into thinking the way we think, or force them to change.
Before we decide to “speak the truth in love”, it’s wise to ask ourselves a few questions:
- Is what I am about to say true? Or is it just a rumor? Or is it my own projections and assumptions?
- Is it really necessary to say anything? Is this a recurrent theme or just a one-time thing?
- Am I overreacting because I am tired or in an irritable mood?
- Am I partially to blame because I never communicated my boundaries or feelings about the situation?
- Will it be helpful to say anything?
- What do I hope to accomplish? Is that a realistic expectation?
- What is more important to me in this situation, to protect myself or to protect the relationship?
Speaking the Truth in Love: What it Is
If you decide to move forward, what does speaking truth in love look like?
- Right time
- Right place
- Right intensity
- Right motive
Doing anything with love implies we take the others’ needs into consideration. If your spouse is exhausted after a hard day’s work, that probably isn’t the best time to ambush them with your dissatisfaction about some aspect of your marriage.
Set some boundaries around the discussion. For example, “I’d like to talk about ____. When would be a good time for you?”
Intentionally embarrassing someone in front of a group is unkind in most situations. If you have any desire to protect the relationship, be careful when and where you decide to confront. It’s true Jesus confronted the Pharisees while others were around, but he was, well, Jesus.
I’m guessing when he called them “unwashed tombs” he wanted his followers, as well as the Pharisees, to understand God is not impressed by hypocrisy, imagined superiority, and image-management. Everyone within earshot needed to hear that. God looks at the heart, not our performance.
Our emotional energy needs to match the situation. Some things require a big response, some don’t. Sometimes those of us who are conflict averse can end up exploding on others because we waited too long to voice the truth. We let our irritation fester and worked our way into way more intensity than we intended. When we find ourselves in an emotional storm it is hard for us to think clearly, and problem solve effectively. And the same is true for the person on the receiving end of our fury.
Because our nervous systems are constantly communicating, emotions are contagious. That’s why it is so important to recognize when you are emotionally hyper aroused and take it down several notches before speaking! Nothing helpful, safe, or effective will be accomplished if you don’t take time to do so. It may temporarily feel great to experience the powerful surge of your outrage, but if you value the relationship, you may do damage that is hard to repair.
What am I trying to accomplish? Do I just want to make myself feel better by venting? Am I too attached to a sense of righteous indignation? Do I really seek to repair what is broken in the relationship? Or maybe set a boundary with a toxic person?
Don’t start speaking the truth until you know your motive is healthy. A good way to test this is to ask yourself, am I proud of the way I handled that? Not, did I feel powerful and superior and righteous, but were my motives pure?