Can you recall a time in your life when someone shared some really hard truths with you? A time when you were called out on your sin, confronted with ways you'd wronged someone, or simply listened to someone tell you something you really didn't want to hear? What about a time when someone spoke to you about those hard things in such a way that you welcomed them!?
A few years ago, I was in the middle of making a life changing decision. Looking back, it should have been a very straightforward answer, but unbeknownst to me at the time, I was battling something much deeper than indecision. As I sought counsel, I was met with lots of wisdom and truth-filled words. But one woman in particular illuminated something in my heart that I hadn't seen on my own. She had been in my life for years at that point and had walked through many seasons with me. She knew me well, and I trusted her discernment and judgment.
Sitting across the table from me, she shared a personal story of her own that had led her to a moment of indecision. For her, she had found a deeper root to that indecision. Faced with a hard choice, she was unwilling to move forward out of fear of what was to come. That fear was implanted in control and she confessed that struggle to God, asking Him to remind her of how much better He was at taking the reins.
I listened intently, connecting similarities to my own situation. By the end of her story, I was standing, leaning over the table, and almost shouting, "Wait, that's me!" She smiled with endearing eyes and said, "I know. I see that. I wanted to share some hard truths with you, and I want you to know it's because I care for you deeply!" She continued to point out ways she'd seen that same struggle in my own life and how God speaks to that in His Word.
In that conversation, I didn't feel personally attacked. I didn't look for a way to defend myself or leave thinking, "I can't believe she just said that." I didn't question her motives or wonder if she was wrongfully accusing me of something. I felt so cared for and loved. What she had shared was true for me, too. I was afraid to lose control of my life by making a choice. I needed wisdom, and she faithfully provided that in a gracious and loving way. I knew she had my best interest at heart and that she genuinely wanted to encourage and exhort. She spoke in such a way that allowed me to delight in her willingness to highlight a hard thing in my life.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.Proverbs 25:11
We need people to have these difficult conversations with us, and we need to be willing to talk about anything that stands in the way of someone's spiritual growth and sanctification. This is the beauty and help of being in Christian community. But when we share hard truths with those we love, it matters how we say it. It matters how we present those truths to someone. Consider, just like the comparison in Proverbs, that you are serving someone an apple in your home. Let's say you have a few options in how you will give this apple to them. You could put the apple on a dirty plate from the sink with some leftover spaghetti stuck to it from the night before. This would be like spewing out your thoughts to someone, unfiltered, with no thought or care – simply telling them like it is. The way it's presented is so baffling that the good fruit of the conversation is unnoticed or overlooked. But what if you grab a beautiful bowl of silver and provide your apple in this way? How delicious does this apple look now?! It shows overwhelming thoughtfulness and care for someone. The apple was always the same, the words are the same, but the presentation is different. The presentation speaks to the heart of the truth it communicates. You aren't sugar coating it, but instead, revealing how sweet it is to have our lives shared with others. It creates a space to share something hard, illuminating your care for the soul and sanctification of another. This is how we can graciously and truthfully speak to others.
Genuinely thinking about speaking into the lives of others well starts internally. A desire to speak into a hard area of someone's life is often an overflow of love for them. Even if our intentions are good, we can be intentionally generous with our tone, our body language, and even the words we choose to use. We can think about appropriate times to share these things with someone. We can ask questions to understand more instead of assuming we have a full picture. We can pray for God's wisdom in the matter. We can encourage in areas of their lives that they are faithfully pursuing Jesus. And we must be careful to speak intentionally into the lives of others, not only in the hard times, but also in the encouraging times.
As we consider ways that we can speak into the lives of others, let's be thoughtful and intentional about the way we present these truths. We would be surprised by how much of our presentation can often affect how our words are received. We are called, as Christians, to point one another to Jesus, even if that means saying things that are difficult to hear. The Bible reminds us that words can be fitly spoken and we can be wise in the way we approach difficult conversations with others.