Last week, I was discussing a dilemma with a friend. I struggle with when and how to confront people with potentially painful truth, or when to just shut up and not bother them with it. I’m usually guilty of the avoidance extreme, not wanting to rock the boat. On the other hand, my friend takes the role of “truth-teller” in her family, getting stuck being the one people expect to confront those in sin, as if it’s a delegated task. But she admits, she’s often too “brutally honest” about it.
It seems like there are often extremes in families and in relationships. There are the “truth tellers” who end up being painfully blunt in confrontations, about stuff that really isn’t their business. Imagine nosy Great-Aunt Molly who lets everyone know when they are eating too much at the family dinner, or that they need to discipline their unruly children in a certain way.
But then there’s Cousin Betsy, who just wants to be everyone’s friend, and never dreams of saying anything that could be perceived as critical. She stands by while her alcoholic mother drains down another bottle of gin, smiles, and pours her mom another glass. She’s an enabler, too worried about disrupting the peace to confront a serious problem.
I struggle because I have so few role models who walk that middle road. They’re the ones who can lovingly take friends and family members aside and express their concern over serious issues like abuse, addictions, recklessness, and pervasive sin. I’ve had Godly friends who speak truth in this way, but they’re so rare, and precious.
The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians, describes this delicate balance, to “speak the truth in love” (4:15). We need to speak truth, but our attitude and approach must always be loving. Of course, how often do we speak the truth? And what is loving? Those are key questions. I don’t walk up to every morbidly obese person I see on the street and lovingly inform them that they’re slowly killing themselves with food. That’s too much truth. But, I also don’t tend to share truth with loved ones struggling with addictions and debilitating sins because I’m too chicken about it, which is too little truth. And the whole approach to being loving, it seems to change for each person and situation, and sometimes, the blunt tactic might be best. Family interventions work this way: they’re blunt and not very private, but still manage to be loving.
And then there’s Romans 14:19, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” This can be my justification for keeping my mouth shut, even when the most loving thing to do is to speak up. I strive for peace just because I don’t want to upset people, or face their potential wrath. It comes down to the sinful attitude of people pleasing, where all I want to do is keep people happy so they like me. But that’s more about me than it is about them. It seeks peace but isn’t very loving.
I’m not offering many answers here, just a walk through the delicate balance that is truth-telling, loving, and peace-keeping. Anyone else struggle with this balance or have any wisdom to share about walking that tough middle road?