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29 Oct '10

Truth and Love: Conversations that Matter

Posted by T.J. Addington in communication, conflict, relationships
Those who lead often face situations where direct feedback to a member of their team is necessary. Or, you may be a pastor with someone sitting in your office who needs to be lovingly confronted for choices they have made that are hurting them or others and you will need to be direct. Or, a friend who you care enough to talk to about an issue in their life but it will mean a difficult conversation.

All of us have encountered folks who do this badly, coming across as judgmental, blunt or harsh. More often in our desire to avoid conflict we also tend to avoid direct conversations. But in doing so we actually do a disservice to those who need to hear something that will help them in their job, in their walk with God or some other area of life.

Jesus was a master of direct conversation that went to the heart of things in a true, loving, non-judgemental way. He combined truth (what needed to be said) with love (wanting the best for those he spoke to) and did so in a way that invited conversation (the woman at the well). Because of the loving way in which He communicated, his directness did not provoke anger - with the exception of the Pharisees who wanted nothing to do with truth. He did not speak in anger to seekers or followers, he did not beat around the bush and avoid the real issues and He did not avoid the hard topics. He cared about people too much to do anything but speak in truth and love.

My wife was for many years a nurse at a suburban high school. Her favorite kids were the "bad" kids who often called her their second mom. She would keep food for kids that came to school hungry, talk to kids about their sexual acting out or drug use or choices that were hurting them. Rarely did they take offence because they knew that she was in their court, loved them unconditionally and wanted the best for them. She was direct (truth) in a spirit of love (grace). This was a combination that the kids were not used to but loved.

Pastors who speak truth in love to those not living in alignment with Jesus are being a faithful shepherd. Friends who speak truth in love to one another are faithful friends. Supervisors who speak truth in love to those they lead are faithful and wise leaders. In each case, our willingness to be honest and direct has the opportunity to help another in a significant way.

Direct conversation is not playing the role of the Holy Spirit. What people do with the truth we speak into their lives is between them and God. It is being honest in a clear way. Avoiding necessary conversations is often dishonesty because it pretends that an issue we need to address is not there. Nor is avoidance loving when direct conversation is in the best interests of a friend, a congregant or a staff member.

Direct feedback is most often received well when it is delivered in an honest but non-judgemental way, when people know we have their best interests in mind, when it does not judge motives and when it invites conversation so that it is not perceived as an attack or delivered in anger.

For those who lead others, honest and direct conversation is critical so that their staff know what their leader believes and thinks. It invites honest dialogue and robust discussion. Avoidance does the opposite.

We could learn much from carefully thinking through how Jesus interacted with people as He had the wonderful balance between truth and love that we all desire. None of us doe this perfectly but all of us can learn to do it better. With the humility that we too need others to speak with honesty and directness into our lives.