Not one hand was raised. The eyes of the people in the session were blank. I was thinking, “Maybe this isn’t going to work.” We were talking about how to speak the truth with love, giving feedback, in the midst of team problems. “What could you say to the person who had failed to do his part of the work and was now holding up the team’s progress?”
I gave an example. “I haven’t seen anything yet on the action point you had for last Friday. Can you bring me up to date on what is happening?” One person just said out loud, “It wasn’t harsh!” In that moment, I realized that in that part of the world, most correction or truth-telling from people who loved them was harsh. The association was that love and truth together was punishing, condemning, shaming. Nobody wanted to be that way. They were stuck, so they avoided it entirely.
“Speaking the truth with love” does create a challenge. Holding love and truth together when you’re talking with someone about hard things, things that need to change, takes courage and grace. Communicating that I am for you when I have something to say that may strain our relationship calls for a true inner strength. It does not require harshness. It does require being filled with the Spirit.
The challenge of the tension got me thinking about combining the truths of those two passages- Ephesians 4:15 and I Corinthians 13:4-7. Here’s what that might look like.
- Speak the truth with patience, because love is patient.
- Speak the truth with kindness, because love is kind.
- Speak the truth with good will, because love does not envy.
- Speak the truth with modesty, because love does not boast.
- Speak the truth with humility, because love is not proud.
- Speak the truth with respect, because love is not rude.
- Speak the truth with self- control, because love is not easily angered.
- Speak the truth with forgiveness, because love does not keep a record of wrongs.
If you’re a friend, spouse, parent, or leader, speaking the truth with love is one of those commitments we need from each other. No growth without it. That’s the context in Ephesians 4. “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. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.“
What images does “speaking the truth with love” conjure up in your mind? What prevents you from speaking the truth with love?