Handling Painful Situations
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ . . . Ephesians 4:15
As a physician, I have often had the responsibility of giving bad news. Your scan shows that you have cancer. It’s a terrible job but it must be done. I don’t remember getting a lot of training on this in medical school, but I’ve seen others do it poorly, usually erring in one extreme or the other.
One the one side, I’ve seen those physicians who are simply all factual. You have an advanced cancer, and it will kill you. Get your life affairs in order. This approach is true, but it’s cold, without any love or kindness. At a time when a patient most needs someone who cares, it provides zero compassion. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this approach many times.
On the other side, I’ve seen those physicians who are so nice that they cannot bring themselves to share horrible news. Well, there may be something bad on your scan, but it’s probably nothing. Don’t worry about it. We’ll treat this thing. To be kind, they omit the truth, which isn’t helpful. Patients need compassion, but they also need to understand reality. Unfortunately, I’ve met many patients who didn’t know how bad things were, because no one had yet been honest with them.
In today’s passage, Paul told us that we must learn to speak the truth in love. He described this in the terms of growing up into maturity. It is in our immaturity that we often err in one extreme or the other. We have a hard time being truthful and loving and so we pick one and go with it. We either embrace a cold hard truth, omitting love, or we embrace love, abandoning the truth.
In our interactions with those around us, if we want to do it right, we must learn to communicate both. When we have friends or family members struggling with chemicals, for example, we may be tempted to ignore certain truths and try to love them into being sober. No worries. I still love you. This approach ignores the destructive effects of addiction and gets us nowhere. On the other hand, we may hammer them with the truth, abandoning all compassion. You’re a loser. Get clean or get out. Tough love may be occasionally necessary, but a loving response would also provide some appropriate intervention.
It’s hard to get right. In our own immaturity, we usually choose one side or the other. If we want to learn how to interact with difficult situations in a healthy manner though, like Paul, we must always speak the truth in love. Because I love you, I must be truthful with you.