I used to have a hard time telling the truth, especially if it had the potential to cause someone to be unhappy with me. I couldn’t reconcile the command to “speak the truth” with the “in love” part. So often in Christian circles the “love” part is emphasized but we don’t call each other out because we want to avoid shame to the other person or to ourselves. I have also seen many people hurt by immovable idealists. What I mean is people who think they are telling the truth but really are dogmatic in their own beliefs and unwilling to hear other points of view. The tension of living cross culturally is that you are always going to run into someone who makes different choices. It’s the lack of grace that makes people feel like they’ve been thrown into the gutter. I’ve been thrown into the gutter and I know I’ve been guilty of throwing others in. That’s the hard thing about being human…we will hurt each other. But if we can’t talk about it, there’s no way to move forward.
I began boundaries training with my friend Kay many years ago, and it started with me approaching strangers politely asking for more cream in my coffee, or asking for something in the store that wasn’t on the shelf. This progressed to me saying that I had to think about an invitation or request before saying “yes” or “no” to them. It meant listening to the Holy Spirit (and to my heart instead of denying my thoughts and feelings as I was conditioned to do) and facing my paralyzing fear of disappointing people. I had to keep asking myself “what if I say ‘no’ to …….?” what could happen? (For example: she could get mad. I might lose a friend. I won’t die. I might be able to say ‘no’ more easily next time.) And “am I responsible for ………’s response?” (nope!) I had to remind myself that I have value (and so does the other person) and to say “yes” when I really mean “no” is a way of devaluing myself (or my family). Often I find that the fallout extends to my husband and kids as well as myself.
What I learned was that I needed to accept the consequences of telling the truth and practice it, even if it meant that it cost me something. No longer would I be angry at someone for asking me for a favor. Because it was my responsibility to respond appropriately. I can’t say the gut wrenching feelings ended with me learning to speak truthfully/honestly, but I think they have subsided some as I’ve put what Kay taught me into practice.
Telling the truth means that there will be personal consequences. Here’s where the vulnerability comes in. It’s a risk to tell the truth. Someone won’t like what I said. We might have completely different ideas of what is “respectful” behavior or even what is normal. Or, sometimes I get it wrong by the story I told myself about what happened. Sometimes I confront on my own strength without seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Sometimes the thing I said gets blown out of proportion and the thing I was hoping to convey gets lost in the conflict. Another result is that I’ve said my peace and there is no response or worse, a hostile one. At that point, I can choose to stop engaging with the crazy. I usually conclude in the end that I’m glad I said something because it’s worth it not to allow myself to be victimized. My previous efforts to be ‘nice’ damaged me because I lived in a constant state of fear of making people unhappy. In his book, ‘When Panic Attacks’, David Burns writes, “If you show me a hundred people who are anxious, I’ll show you a hundred of the nicest people you ever met!”
One of my friends tells the truth unapologetically. She has no problem approaching others to find out what really happened, and I think she’s really good at diffusing a situation that could get ugly. The reason I find safety in our friendship (and others like it) is that I know she’s going to tell me the truth every time. We don’t have to agree on everything but we both know each other’s hearts so we can assume good intentions right from the start.
It took time to build up our friendship and trust each other. She would never put me above her family or relationship with her husband and nor would she expect me to do that for her. We both have other close friends and freely expect each other to spend time with them. When I’m with her, it’s common for her to share with me what she’s studying in the Scriptures. Her desire to grow spiritually is infectious. Also, she makes me laugh. I don’t have time for emotional games or drama in friendships, because I am stretched with all that I’m called to do here (wife, mother, teammate, etc.) I have several friendships here like this, where there are no ‘shoulds’ or guilt trips and for that I’m really thankful!
Living in community means more opportunities for truth telling and for loving confrontation.
But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life! ( The Message, Jude 20-21)