fear of confrontation

How to deal with an elephant in the room

Why is it so hard to deal with an elephant in the room? The elephant in the room is an idiomatic expression representing a person or truth that is an obvious problem, but never gets addressed. Thus the people in the room with the elephant ignore it because of a reticence to pay the price of confronting and trying to solve the problem.

Elephants are hard to confront because usually their sheer size has an intimidating and controlling effect on people. Their opinion carries a lot of weight. Once they have settled on something they are almost impossible to budge. Or if you get them going on something they may run you over while what ever truths or opinions you have to offer are cast aside. Sad to say they have a thick skin that is hard to penetrate with the truth. Even though they have big ears they often are not open to hearing what others have to say.

And so we try to pretend the elephant is not there. But in the end that does not do the elephant any good and those in the room with the elephant have to go on suffering.

The elephant in the room syndrome has troubled me for some time. Number one, if I were the big guy in the room I would want to know it and hopefully be helped to deal with it. Number two, those affected by the elephant are hindered from bringing their best contribution to the table. The dysfunctional effects of the elephant reverberate throughout the room and beyond, multiplying hidden suspicions, whispered conversations and frustration.

Why speaking the truth is worth it

“Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” Proverbs 28:23 (ESV)

One of the reasons it is difficult for us to be open in speaking the truth in love is that it often does not go well. (For an intro to this topic see blog post “Why can’t we speak the truth in love?”) But that should not be the reason we do not speak out. We need to keep the goal in mind and be willing to endure a rocky road to get there.

The goal in such communication according to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is to build one another up in love and grow together in Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-16) And Jesus made it plain in His teaching on corrective confrontations that the goal was always to be the healing of the relationship. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)

The wisdom of Solomon from the Old Testament regarding truth confrontations provide us with a necessary perspective. “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” (Proverbs 28:23) The use of the word “afterward” here gives us a clue that initially truth confrontations often do not go well. We have all experienced it. We can go into a sharing the truth in love time with the best of intentions only to have it backfire in our face. And if we are not careful we can come out of it so beat up and discouraged that we vow never to do that again.

But God wants us to approach it in a spirit of faith, do our best to be obedient to the nudging of His Spirit and ultimately trust Him with the results. We can cling firmly to the hope that by God’s grace and the faithfulness of His Word, that what we do in faith will eventually be rewarded with the outworking of His will. And “afterward we will find more favor” than if we had simply cowered behind a flattering tongue. It may take some time to resolve things, but afterward we will be thankful we did what we did.

And I must add, even in situations where we do not see the hoped for “afterward” reward, we must comfort ourselves in the fact that we have done God’s bidding and that is reward enough.

Why can’t we speak the truth in love?

Why is speaking the truth to people so difficult? Yesterday I gave a message out of Ephesians on the love of God for us 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.

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