We’ve been thinking about healthy communication skills in this bulletin space for the last couple of weeks. We’ve talked about the importance of listening and letting the other person finish talking, and the clear wisdom of thinking before you speak. These, all by themselves, could lead to significant decline in misunderstandings and hurt feelings, whether in our personal families or in the church; but there are still more communication principles that will help. Another is “Speaking the truth in love.”
As a part of a lengthy list of things that Christians should learn to do, the apostle Paul taught, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,” Ephesians 4:15. There are two parts to doing this right, when we are communicating with family.
First, speak the truth, don’t exaggerate. It is incredibly tempting to exaggerate or use hyperbole, when we are upset: “You always…”, “I never…”, “Stop yelling at me!”, “You’re just like your (insert disliked relative here)”, etc. Exaggeration and hyperbole usually offends the other person because of what they believe to be a lie, and often only serves to escalate the emotions and sidetrack us from the real issue at hand. Not exaggerating takes deliberate thought (think before you speak) to speak the real (not exaggerated) truth. This will take effort to remember and practice, but you don’t want others to exaggerate things about you, right? So, don’t exaggerate. As the old police TV show used to say, “Just the facts, ma’m.”
Second, the truth needs to be spoken in love. Speaking the truth can be painful, and many times the truth is actually used as a weapon. Have you ever heard someone say something to someone else that was actually cruel, and then heard them say, “Well, I’m just telling the truth!” This is so common that our first assumption about someone telling us the truth is often that they are just trying to hurt us (there’s an application here to effective evangelism, too, but I digress). Truth should never be “weaponized”, used to slam or maliciously hurt others. Truth should be used to help; and when it is spoken in love, in the best interest of the other person, it does. Even hard things can be said, if the one hearing them knows that you don’t say them to hurt.
This, of course, puts a burden on the one speaking truth, that the hearer knows that no harm is meant. How? Just a suggestion: “I need to tell you something, but first, do you know that I love you?” Put it in your own words, of course; but such a simple and sincere statement before telling the truth (not an exaggeration) could be extremely powerful. Taking the time and making the effort to make sure the other person knows that truth is being spoken in love is well worth both the time and the effort.
Imagine how much shorter disagreements within a family could be, if everyone were practicing the whole principle of “speaking the truth in love”. There’d be fewer assumptions made, more relational intimacy, tighter family bonds, more openness, fewer grudges nursed (because “I just can’t talk to him/her about X”), more contentious issues really resolved, and fewer old problems revisited.
Bless yourself, your personal family, and your church family with “speaking the truth in love” in all your communications.