May 17, 2015
I … urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received….
– Eph. 4: 1
From what follows this statement it is clear that strife & dissention do not belong in the Christian universe, but given unredeemed human nature, it seems inevitable. Take, for instance, truthfulness. Lying has become very much a part of our everyday life – in politics, in business, in marriages, & even in religion. We smile when we talk about cheating on our taxes. We teach our children that they must not believe in TV commercials because most of them are lies to some degree. We profess faith even when it isn’t there to avoid controversy (or vice versa). In the midst of this tendency to play fast & loose with the truth, we hear the admonition to “tell it like it is.”
There is nothing new about all this. Jesus said that His disciples should be people who mean “yes” when they say “yes,” & “no” when they say “no.” Unfortunately, “telling it like it is” so often becomes confrontational. In both so-called “sensitivity sessions” & ordinary arguing, so many, including even husbands & wives, bruise & batter one another psychologically & emotionally. They club each other with every possible example of what’s wrong with the other person. This goes on until everyone is completely wiped out. Some psychiatrists who have studied this problem drew the following conclusion:
“The fact is that being completely honest & open in this way – telling all – can be, & usually is, an immature & selfish act. It may mask a neurotic need to get rid of guilt or to share anxiety & fear. Under the guise of speaking the “whole” truth, we can wreak subtle revenge or unconsciously antagonize the very person we are trying to draw closer to us.”
When used as a weapon, “telling it like it is” can destroy life rather than enhance it. Truth is not a weapon to be used for attacking & hurting other people. St. Paul says we must speak the truth in love. This means being for the other person, not clubbing them emotionally with a smile on our face. It must be done in a way that uplifts the other person & helps to heal them.
Here, the question of how to tell the truth becomes crucial. There are different ways of saying the same thing. Sometimes Paul could be gentle, sometimes firm; sometimes he spoke directly, sometimes indirectly. In short, he tried to speak the truth in a way that would be most helpful to those he was addressing.
In trying to discern how to do this in a creative rather than a destructive way, it helps to approach the problem from within, in an attitude of prayer. There we discover it is not only a question of how to tell the truth, but how much truth to tell, if we are going to do it in a loving way. We needn’t dump the whole load, so to speak, in a particular situation.
If “telling it like it is” signifies a new honesty, then well & good. It is not a matter of should: we need to be honest with one another in the church, in marriage, & in the community. But the Christian community has an added emphasis: to speak the truth in love.
There is an old legend about a teacher who wanted to test one of his students. He asked the student to go to the market place & bring back something evil. The student returned with an ox tongue. The teacher said, “You have done well. Now go & bring back something good.” This time he presented the teacher with another tongue. “You have done very well,” he said. “Truly the tongue can be used for evil or good.”
What makes the difference? Whether or not we “tell it like it is” in the spirit of love. This means that the other person must sense that we are saying what we are saying out of genuine concern, not to tear down or disrespect. That in turn means the grace of humility on our part, & that brings us back to our relationship with God. The bottom line is this: can we be healers in difficult situations, or contribute to the problem? Prayer can make the difference. AMEN!