When “I Love You” Means Speaking The Hard Truth
Lately I’ve being thinking a lot about the power of our words. A thoughtful, encouraging phrase can make someone’s entire week. In fact, one of my goals this year is to get better at lifting others up with my words.
But what if you have something to say that will be difficult for a loved one to hear?
Something like, “I’m worried about how much you’ve been drinking lately” or “I’m concerned if you move in with your boyfriend it will make it difficult for you to pursue purity.” Or even, “Someone needs to tell you that skirt is too short for the office.”
Those words are awkward and dangerous. Those phrases begin hard conversations.
As Christ-followers, we are called to lovingly correct one another. It’s not about judgment, it’s about sharpening each other. Ephesians 4:15 encourages us to admonish one another by, “speaking the truth in love,” so that we may mature individually and as a church community.
Well here’s the deal…speaking the truth when it might hurt someone is not really my cup of tea. I’m a people-pleaser and my momma taught me to be polite—no matter what. Ask me if you look fat in those jeans, I’m gonna tell you sweetly that you look fabulous. Every time.
I used to think my fear of delivering the difficult truth just meant I was too nice—I thought it was a good thing. Now I know it means I’m a coward.
It’s a product of selfishness. A loving friend cares more about the other’s well being than her own reputation. True friends sharpen one another in a gentle, loving way informed by truth. Lip service benefits no one.
“You can trust a friend who corrects you, but kisses from an enemy are nothing but lies.” Psalm 27:6 (CEV)
How do I know this is true? Because I’ve been wounded by loving correction before and I’m sincerely grateful. When my sinful or flawed tendencies are pointed out it hurts, but it always makes me better.
Here’s one example…
About a year ago my supervisor at work sat me down to deliver some well-intended feedback.
“You have great taste, Morgan,” He said. “However, sometimes your attire can be more cocktail party oriented and less appropriate for professional services.”
The words felt like a sucker punch to the stomach—they took my breath away. I wanted to melt into the floor and never show up at work again. I was mortified and, eventually, angry.
Honestly, I stayed mad about this conversation for almost a year.
After our conversation, I actually held my own silent, mopey demonstration—a mourning period for my “fun” wardrobe. For weeks, I wore black—black pants, black heels, and a black cardigan. No jewelry. Nothing even remotely “cocktail oriented.” Just to make a point.
But do you know what? Now, when I look back on that conversation I’m grateful.
I’m thankful my supervisor cared about me enough to bring up a difficult topic. I know it wasn’t easy for him to have that conversation with me, but he was right and I needed someone to tell me. I actually wish he had told me sooner.
Now, I’m even more confident in what I wear to work because I better understand what “business-casual attire” for women looks like. (Quick rant: Can we just stop for a sec to acknowledge that females in the work place have a challenge here?! It’s not easy to look feminine, modest, and trendy in affordable, professional attire… Esh!)
(Okay, back to speaking truth with love…) Just because we are called to deliver the hard truth sometimes, doesn’t mean we get to launch truth grenades at all our friends and family.
A few ground rules for truth telling…
- Let your words be informed by Scripture and saturated in prayer. Can you back up your advice with truth in The Bible or is it simply your opinion?
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- Check your heart. Are you in a place personally to approach the situation humbly and with a tender heart?
“First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
- Use appropriate proportions of truth and love. I like the analogy of a velvet brick—truth wrapped softly in love. How can you soften the blow of a hard truth with genuine love and grace? How can you avoid “bubble wrapping your brick” or sugar coating the truth beyond recognition?
“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
- Don’t launch grenades; join them in the trenches. How do you plan to follow up after the conversation? If you are not able to actively love or help them, maybe God is asking you to trust someone else with delivering the hard truth?
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Y’all this is difficult stuff! And honestly, I don’t believe we can do it well on our own. We need Jesus (the One who made grace possible) to guide us.
Do you need to say, “I love you” to someone by bringing up a difficult topic?
(You’ll know because your stomach just tied itself into knots as you read this.)
I don’t pretend to know your situation, friend. But I’m praying that you would know when to speak up and when to stay silent. Praying for you to be filled with wisdom and courage to speak directly to the issue in the most loving way. I am so proud of your boldness and brave love.
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17