The Most Effective Way to Speak Hard Truths

Aunt Ruthie, my mother’s youngest sister, went out of her way to spend time with my sister and me when we were middle schoolers.  She drove us in her car, wind in our hair, music blaring.  She took us on our first trip to a mall; and treated us to our first restaurant lunch.  I ordered a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich: salty, sweet, crunchy, gushy…delicious!  When I reach out to someone younger or someone others might ignore, it might be because Aunt Ruthie reached out to me first.

Aunt Ruthie took us on our first trip to a mall; and treated us to our first restaurant lunch.  I ordered a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich.  Delicious! Photo Credit:  Steve Kerr

In my later teen years, I chose a one-piece bathing suit on my own.  I loved its asymmetric leafy print, but the derierre was skimpier than I realized.  My mother diplomatically asked me to try it on and show Aunt Ruthie, who said it wasn’t flattering.  I protested and cried a bit, but Aunt Ruthie volunteered to help me return the bathing suit and choose another one.  Whenever I have the courage to speak hard truth lovingly, it might be because Aunt Ruthie cared enough to speak the truth to me first.  Whenever I help someone to follow through and live the truth, it might be because Aunt Ruthie helped me pick a better bathing suit.

Wherever we have lived, Aunt Ruthie has sent birthday greetings to each person in my family, and over one hundred others.  I asked how she remembers.  She answered, “Every year I write the names…on my kitchen calendar.  I write the cards monthly—first I pick out cards, then decide on [Bible] verses for each person, and then write the cards.  It’s my way of keeping in touch with people I love and pray for, but don’t see often.”

Recently I shared my anxiety with Aunt Ruthie about the purchase of our new home.  The next day she sent me this quotation, “Give me ten million dollars, and one reversal of fortune may scatter it. Give me a spiritual hold on the divine assurance that ‘the Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want’, and I am set for life. I cannot go broke with this stock in my hand. I can never be bankrupt with this security.”  (Charles Spurgeon)  See how she continues to speak truth into my life?

A rich young man once asked Jesus what he should do to get “eternal life.”  Jesus told him to obey the commandments; the young man said he had.  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  Maybe the young man wanted affirmation for his efforts to be a good person. Jesus lovingly implied that only being perfect is enough; and we can’t achieve perfection by our own efforts. Each one of us needs a heart, transformed by God. We need to value treasure in heaven more than treasure on earth; and following Jesus more than independence and self-sufficiency.  This truth was too hard for the young man; he went away sad.

Application:  Dear friend, we earn the right to speak truth into another’s life by faithfully caring.  Loving makes us brave enough to speak hard truth, even when we anticipate the listener might protest or cry.  Weary friend, I often shy away from speaking hard truth.  I’m not brave enough because I don’t love enough.  Or I blurt out hard truth with an irritated tone, harming rather than helping.  Jesus demonstrated speaking the truth in love; Aunt Ruthie demonstrated it, too.  God, help me to follow.

Reflection:  Who needs you to lovingly speak the truth into his or her life?  How can you cultivate a heart that listens and learns when hard truth is spoken into your life?

Recommended Reading:

Powerful Conversations: How High Impact Leaders Communicate by Phil Harkins

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