Several readers asked me to offer some practical suggestions following-up on to my post about “speaking the truth in love.” So here goes.
I actually believe it’s vitally important to speak the truth to people we love. Each of us carries a truck load of troubles and dysfunctions simply because no one dared tell us a truth we desperately needed to hear. Speaking the truth to those we love can be healthy, powerful, and transformative.
Unfortunately, as I pointed out in a previous post, we’ve shaved the glory off truth and exchanged it for personal opinions or an amalgamation of other intellectual, emotional, and political opinions and commitments and called them “truth” because we wanted them to be. This had made it difficult for others to know when the truth we speak is delivered in their best interest or merely our own attempt to force our opinions into their lives.
A Quick Story:
Two years ago, I walked into the doctor’s office after years of avoiding it. I wasn’t against doctors, but I was rarely sick and didn’t feel badly enough to go. At the urging of my wife and a family friend, herself a doctor, I made an appointment. The doctor took a lot of measurements and blood and then came in and said what no doctor had ever told me. I needed to make some changes. Big changes. Huge changes. My choices were to make the changes or have a tired, miserable, medication-filled life that would lead to a early death.
He explained to me, given my numbers, that he should put me on medication for high-cholesterol and that I was pre-diabetic.
My doctor was honest, straight-forward, and clear. But it was ultimately my decision. He’d given me the all the information with the best of his knowledge and suggested we check everything again in 3-months. He then said, “Your paperwork says you’re a Pastor.”
“I bet you’re terrible at taking care of yourself.”
“If you don’t do anything else,” he said “read this book.” And he gave me The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight with Loving-Kindness.’
So I made the changes and read the book. I dropped 71lbs, using the greatest system in the world and have enjoyed two of the best years of my life. Now, I’m helping other people make the changes that have been so valuable to me and achieve their dreams. And it all happened because one man decided to speak the truth in love.
Speaking the truth in love has a formula, ingredients. My doctor knew them, used them, and I’m the better for it. If you want to be the kind of person who actually speaks the truth in love rather than the hot-head known for advocating your opinions, badgering others who disagree with you, and generally being a the kind of person all your friends secretly wish to block on Facebook, you might want to pay attention to the 5 ingredients necessary to speak the truth in love.
1. Irrefutable Data: My doctor didn’t give me his opinion. He gave me data that was clear and compelling. Many Christians believe when they quote scripture they’re offering irrefutable data, but we aren’t. Not in the way we think, anyways. I hate to be the one to tell you, but when we speak of the Bible, we’re speaking of our interpretation of the Bible. None of us reads scriptures in a vacuum. Our Bible reading is the product of many, many forces, therefore there are lots and lots of interpretations and we can’t possibly be right about every jot and tittle. That’s why the gospel – as I understand it – means we are saved by grace not exegesis. We offer our interpretations of scripture and God-loving, well-meaning people will disagree with us. Either that or we have to believe that everyone who disagrees with us is either insincere or stupid.
2. Clear Outcomes. When you outline irrefutable data it typically lead to clear outcomes. One of the ways you might want to test the truth you wish to speak is whether or not the outcomes are inevitable. Christians often get this wrong because we take anecdotes as evidence. If a few stories match up nicely with our faith commitments we accept them without examining the evidence to the contrary or how universal those stories can be applied. For instance, while trying to convince your friend to not live with her boyfriend, saying, “You won’t be happy,” won’t be interpreted as a solid argument. Likewise, you can’t suggest to teenaged girls that they refrain from premarital sex because, “No good, Christian man would want you.” That’s simply not true (besides being horrifying theology and a tad bit abusive). Those outcomes are not inevitable. Before you unload your truth claims, you need to make sure they’re actually true and not the straw-man arguments you heard your favorite preacher or TV or radio-show host say. If the outcomes aren’t clear, you may want to stay quiet. You risk losing credibility if you don’t.
3. About Me Not Him. My doctor’s advice to me was about me feeling better not just him feeling better. Several years ago a Godly woman invited me to coffee. She had something to tell me. For 30-minutes she downloaded what “God put on her heart” about me. When she was done, she told me, “That’s all. I thought God wanted me to tell you that.” I started to respond. She shushed me, grabbed her purse, and left. Here’s the thing: Her words were meant to be comforting to me, but I don’t remember any of them. What I do remember is that conversation was completely about her. She said what she wanted to say and left. The meeting was about her. Oftentimes, when we get around to truth-telling, it’s really about us listening to ourselves talk. I learned that day that the next time I want to spout off about other people’s lifestyles choices, politics, or whatever, I need to pull back and ask, “Who am I saying this for?” Trust me, my “blog drafts” folder is loaded with posts I wrote that I later determined were just me venting and completely unhelpful to others.
4. At A Personal Cost. My doc made it clear that, given his medical groups policies, he should write me prescriptions. He didn’t. He trusted that within the next three months I could get my numbers down. Too often, our truth-telling costs us nothing. If you’re not invested in the life of the person you’re talking too, you’re probably not friends enough to say anything at all. If you risk nothing personal, people will notice. You’ll just become a talking head.
5. Let The Other Decide. The most impressive thing my doctor did was allow me to decide for myself. He laid out the information, and asked me to primary agent in creating change. The changes were completely up to me. I’ve seen too many people have tough conversations with people they loved. Often the situation was handled well until after the conversation when someone couldn’t let it go. They kept badgering, cajoling, and bothering people. Don’t do that. If we’re not talking about your underaged children, you’re gonna have to learn to let adults be adults, even if they make poor choices. It’s easier to be a clanging gong than we think.
My doctor changed my life that day. He spoke to truth in love. 3-months later, when I had my return visit, both of us were all smiles and as I walked out of his office, he gave me a high-five. That’s what can happen when we’re thoughtful when speaking the truth in love.