Most regular churchgoers have a favorite Bible story or verse. Obvious choices include the poignant drama surrounding the birth of Jesus in that Bethlehem stable or perhaps the despair over his cruel death followed by the shock and joy of his resurrection. Psalm 23— “The Lord is my shepherd” and John 3:16—“For God so loved the world” remain best-remembered verses from long-ago Sunday school lessons.
I would add a far less familiar, few words of scripture to my own list of favorites. Not written in flowing poetic language nor promoting some profound theological position, my selection simply offers a formula for building strong, healthy and durable relationships in daily life, a goal still relevant and much-needed today.
“—-speaking the truth in love—” (Eph. 4:15)
Saul of Tarsus was a zealous persecutor of the followers of Jesus. After his own dramatic conversion to Christianity he became better known simply as Paul. His primary mission was to establish churches across the middle east. He would then provide oversight of these new places of faith through return visits to check progress or more often by sending letters to admonish doctrinal error and encourage spiritual growth. One such letter arrived around the year 65 AD at a new church he had just planted in Ephesus (in modern day Turkey.) It challenged its members to work toward greater unity of purpose, just like our own contemporary groups and organizations, in order to fulfill their mission statement.
TRUTH WITHOUT LOVE/COMPASSION: In every healthy relationship – corporate, family or friendship, honesty is essential for growth. But what if that honesty is not balanced and tempered with caring and gentleness? On this weekend of memorial services for Senator John McCain, one is reminded of that infamous 2015 remark by President Trump; referring to the Senator’s war record and long imprisonment in Viet Nam, Trump crudely asserted that he “—liked people who weren’t captured.” His honest opinion, perhaps, but delivered without any sense of understanding or respect for McCain’s sacrifice and heroic service to his country.
We all can recall being on the receiving end of someone’s insensitive comments, even if they are speaking a truth to us. Admittedly, I may actually be unattractive or stupid or lazy or prone to mistakes, but, pointing out someone’s faults or shortcomings, with the sole purpose of inflicting humiliation or ridicule, is nothing more than cruel. Cyber-bullying is the act of exposing a victim’s flaws or mistakes, such as those intimate photos, to shame and public scrutiny via social media.
LOVE WITHOUT TRUTH: I suspect most of us find ourselves in this second category. Because we are loving, compassionate people, we try to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Too often we resist telling that other person what they need to know because it may cause tension or hurt. Guided by desire to not rock the boat we say nothing.
Husband: “Dear, is something bothering you? You look upset.”
Wife: No, everything’s fine.”
While her motive may be loving, it is not honest. I once went through an entire day with a long streak of dried blood on my left cheek. That morning after breakfast I had cut myself while shaving and decided to let the wound heal itself for an hour before gently wiping away the ugly red stain. Of course, I promptly forgot about my plan and went to the office. It wasn’t until lunch time I noticed with profound embarrassment my oversight. How I wished someone during those previous four hours would have cared enough to risk giving me a brief awkward moment by pointing out that very apparent “truth” displayed on my professional face. Their silence may have been “caring” but not honest.
TRUTH IN LOVE: Now we arrive at Paul’s inspired formula for building healthy relationships. Inevitably, in marriage, family life, friendships or at work, there will be a need to recognize and deal with some issue which, if not addressed, would impede that relationship. I have already discouraged personal confrontations which may be honest in fact but lacking compassion and empathy. I have equally advised against generally avoiding those conversations when they are required to resolve an issue. (At times, however, given a potentially dangerous situation, any confrontation may not be wise.)
Labour Day weekend marks the unofficial end of the summer season in our cottage country and for many, a return to more active community involvement, work, school or faster-paced, big city urban life. This is an opportune time to enhance those relationships awaiting us ahead . In difficult interactions which may need to be honestly addressed, we can be motivated by caring and empathy and then speak the truth in love.