Why can’t we speak the truth in love?

February 14th, 2011 · by Tom Stuart · Relationships

“… speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”   Ephesians 4:15 (ESV)

Why is speaking the truth to people so difficult?  Yesterday I gave a message out of Ephesians on the love of God as the basis for our expressing Christ’s love toward others.  In an interactive poll given in both Sunday Services I discovered two very interesting facts.  Eighty percent of all the people in attendance admitted there is someone in their life they are having trouble loving right now.  And eighty percent also acknowledged that the hardest thing for them to do in relationships is speak the truth in love. 

Prior to yesterday I had conjectured that the majority of people were struggling with these issues.  But I was not prepared for such a high percentage – eight out of ten.  That has given me pause. 

Prime facie it illuminates the incongruous fact, that relationship conflict is a frequent reality for followers of Christ, who ironically, are called to evidence their discipleship by loving one another. (John 13:35)  This reminds me of an insightful little ditty I heard years ago.  “Living with the saints above, oh that will be glory. Living with the saints down here, that’s a different story.” 

But at a deeper level it reveals an even more startling fact.  We saints, who have received the lavish love of God despite our own sinfulness, are struggling to show that same love to others.  We, who should be well equipped for such a task, are having difficulty initiating the loving resolution of our relationship conflicts.   And it all appears to hinge on our inability to speak the truth in love.

I went to bed last night and woke up this morning pondering this question – why is it so hard for people to speak the truth in love to one another?  I have ruminated on this before and actually written several blog posts about it in the past:  The last 10% –  Pray it before you Say it, How to hear the last 10% and You can’t handle the truth, here’s why.  But I have never really answered the “why we don’t share the truth” question.

Speaking the truth in love is akin to speaking the last 10%.  The last 10% is the content in a person’s communication that is often withheld because it expresses in total honesty and openness a person’s hidden feelings, thoughts or opinions on a subject.

So why are 80% of us struggling to speak the truth in love to those who most likely would benefit from hearing it.  Here is my list of possibilities given in no particular order.

  1. Fear of being misunderstood and possible rejection.
  2. Fear of making things worse and causing a deeper rift in the relationship rather than resolving it.
  3. Fear of being forced to open up a can of worms of other unspoken or unresolved issues in the relationship.
  4. Fear of counter accusation or retaliation in having ones own faults and shortcomings brought to the fore.
  5. Fear of not saying what we want to say because we question whether our own heart and attitudes are right.
  6. Having worked through our own attitude issues, we no longer sense the urgency or need to talk.  Typically the issues then lie dormant until there is another flare up and we are again faced with having to grapple with whether or not to pursue a conversation.
  7. Cultural conditioning (Minnesota Nice) – the influence of Northern European stoicism causes us to “stuff it.”  This however makes us vulnerable to the temptation to tell others (gossip and slander) or we fall prey to passive-aggressive reactions.
  8. We have never seen speaking the truth in love modeled.  Because of our cultural conditioning we do not know how to do it rightly.
  9. Our personality has conditioned us in timidity to accept anything from anyone and not speak up.
  10. Other – you fill in the blank _______________________________.

What are your thoughts about this topic?  Let’s wrestle through this question together.

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2 Responses to “Why can’t we speak the truth in love?”

  1. I have spoken the truth in love and have faced rejection-no fun-also offenses have been taken up as the result-also no fun-but to hold it inside has side effects also-it causes lack of peace and walls. To let it go is easier said than done. How many times have we experiened the Lord speaking His truth to us in love and we have in turn rejected it (Him). Am so thankful that the Lord was broken that we might experience wholeness.

  2. Ann – Thank you for your perspective. Very insightful and encouraging none the less to speak the truth. Your mention of side effects when we hold back is a key. We do have a responsibility before God for what He is asking us to do. Your comments got me to thinking more about this topic so I wrote another post “Why speaking the truth is worth it.”

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