My good friend Ben once invited me to the pub for a chat while we were at uni. He and his housemate Owen had started a prayer meeting on Saturday nights at the their house and it had grown into a little family.
We loved spending time in God’s presence together on those Saturday nights. We also loved eating pizza and sharing the rest of life together. We’d talk during the week about what God was doing in our lives and what He was challenging us to grow in. We’d share the dreams and visions He would give us for our lives and our city and we’d encourage one another into courageous acts of obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
We lived with a moment-to-moment expectation of the activity of God in and through our lives.
And we did it together.
But Ben had asked to meet up with me with one of the strangest requests I’d ever heard. He text me saying “Hey let’s meet up and tell each other something about the other’s character that needs to be improved or worked on.” I was like what?? No one had ever asked me to talk to them about something like that!
On my way there I really didn’t know what to expect. I can’t remember what I said to Ben but I still remember what he said to me. He basically told me that I could be quite dismissive of other people’s thoughts and ideas and that I always voiced my opinion so authoritatively that it was hard to correct or challenge me. Wow! When he said it I had a bit of a revelation moment about how much of a jerk I’d been without realising it.
But let me tell you, I didn’t walk away from that conversation discouraged. I walked away feeling built up and feeling a heck of a lot closer to Ben. Ben and I are still friends and we’re still pursuing the plans and purposes of God together. I really believe that in large part, at least for me, it’s because of that moment of pure honesty and brave vulnerability.
Tell Me Truth
I think we need to hear negative things from people who love us.
When we put our self-esteem through the machine of our culture, it will probably come out crushed or falsely inflated. It’s so easy to develop a narrative of negativity in your head when you judge yourself by the standards of society. “I’m not smart enough, I’m not sexy enough, I don’t earn enough money, Nobody likes me, Nobody cares, I have no value…” And it can go on and on. We may never articulate it or we may fall into depression. But I think we need to hear negative things from people who love us.
I say that because when we hear negative things from people who love us, we can believe that our flaws aren’t fatal. If the people that we know love us see these things in us and still love us, we don’t pursue growth for the sake of love or acceptance because we already have it. We can pursue growth because we want to grow and better reflect the character of Christ and the image of God.
Now this doesn’t mean that we just start looking for things that we don’t like in each other. I’ve heard it said that “There’s a difference between speaking the truth in love and loving to speak the truth.” Some people will just happily rip apart your self-esteem, even publicly in the name of “being real” or “being honest.” Sorry, that’s just cruelty and usually comes from jealousy and insecurity.
We’re all called to put off falsehood and speak truthfully to those in our community, because we’re all part of the same body (Ephesians 4:25). That means that we have to see ourselves as one and that means that my growth becomes your growth and your growth becomes my growth. It also means that your sin affects me and mine affects you…
Jesus said that knowing the truth sets us free. Obviously He was speaking about Himself but knowing the truth also frees us from lies that we believe that can run our lives.
As I said, there is a swarm of lies waiting to descend on anything that moves out in the world and there is a swarm of accusation that the enemy is ready to throw at our minds. The way we combat this and protect each other is by speaking the truth. Face to face. All the time.
If we see someone whose right arm is growing but the rest of them isn’t, we don’t praise the growth of the right arm, we immediately know something is wrong with the whole body. In the shower you don’t just wash your left foot because eventually, the rest of your body will get dirty and may be infected and then the left foot is in trouble too!
We are all members of the same body.
“Tell me the truth. Even if it hurts me, even if it’s ugly my heart is open. Tell me the truth, without the self-protection love can mend what’s broken in me and you.”
Tell Me the Truth by Steffany Gretzinger
Brutal Honesty and Tough Love
So let’s get practical. In my very short-lived but filled with life and love experience, Christian community tends to fall short in this area when we don’t love each other enough. On the surface it looks like we’re too nice or we’re too timid but really underneath I think it’s selfishness and self-protection which basically means I love myself more than I love you.
Do you agree? Let me know in the comments or in person but I’m going to explain a bit further.
If my friend is very controlling and always forces her own way in group situations and I see this over and over, I have to make a choice. Do I risk speaking to her about it and potentially making things a bit awkward g for myself? Do I risk her not liking me any more because I told her something she didn’t like? Do I risk letting her go on being controlling and causing other people to dislike her? Do I risk the rest of the group being hindered in its growth because she makes decisions for everyone?
Risk is a key word here. There seems to be danger here and danger usually brings fear with it. But what am I afraid of? I’m afraid of getting hurt. I’m afraid she will react badly and that that might be hurtful for me. I might lose her as a friend.
It’s all about me! And that’s messed up!
I need to learn how to value my friends more than I value their friendship. Love risks the friendship for the sake of the friend. Love says “I can’t let you keep going on like this in a way that is destructive to your own life and that’s not honouring to God.” Love says “I know you want to follow Jesus and this doesn’t fit into that life so even if you don’t like it at first, I’m going to tell you the truth.”
I think that the more we do this with each other, the less risk there actually is. If a friendship can be destroyed with the truth, it must be built on a lie and so it’s not a real friendship. Sometimes these conversations do break friendships. For a while. Sometimes that’s good. It can mean that an even more solid friendship is formed afterwards because we realise how much we actually love each other. But love has to be the motivation.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
1Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)
Are you open to friends speaking the truth to you? Are you part of a community that knows how to speak the truth in love and not just speak the truth? Are you fostering that kind of community around yourself? I’m not suggesting that community means we all just say what’s wrong with each other all the time. That’s not healthy.
The truth we speak to each other is not just the current facts about our lives and our shortcomings. It’s also the truth God has spoken about us in His Word and revealed to us by His Spirit. Hopefully we can talk about that another time. For now I’d just like you to think about whether this is what you really want.
How does living in a family or community where people are honest and vulnerable feel to you? Scary? Exciting? Safe? Risky? Let me know in the comments below, on Facebook or in person. Share it with friends and ask them what they think.
Well done for powering all the way through! Thanks for reading.