VALIDATE! DON’T HUMOR!
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:11-12
Jesus was a truth teller and Jesus didn’t sugar coat it. He told it the way it needed to be told. But He was Truth and He was also Grace so He knew perfectly how to marry the two. I can call myself a lover of truth but, then in situations where my gift of mercy goes askew, I sometimes tone the truth down so that it isn’t more painful than it has to be. In some cases, like in the following story with my mother, I could have easily invalidated what was true.
My mother had been battling cancer for more than a year. She was painfully thin. Nonetheless, on a weekend when our family was able to visit, she insisted on making the effort to go to church with us. My mother, not a complainer about anything and prone to suffer silently to a fault, surprised me when she blurted out in frustration. She had put on her favorite dress, looked at herself in the mirror, and said to me as I stood in the doorway, “Look at me! I’m a bag of bones in this dress.” I wanted so much to protest. “No, no, Mom. You look beautiful in the dress.” I caught myself before answering poorly. I said, “I’m sorry you don’t look like you want to look in the dress. These changes have to be horribly painful and I’m so sorry.”
A believer in the midst of a very painful journey usually has a clear vision of this world. What was once murky gray has become black and white. What is frivolous doesn’t appeal. What is most important becomes most precious. And in the process of seeing life more clearly than most everyone else, they make truthful statements about life, Christianity, people, and religion that are usually true. Their statements sound blunt and stark. Our first reaction is to protest, to soften it, thinking we are lessening the pain of what they’re vocalizing. However, in protesting, we are not helping. We are making it worse by accentuating their feelings of isolation. Even if the truth was said in anger, there are ways we can validate them without matching their angst. Not without prayerful wisdom though. Jesus will give us words that smooth their ragged edges with grace.
God values truth and I should value truth and affirm it when it is spoken. At times it will make me squirm. It will challenge the common everyday deception that stares me in the face that I don’t see yet because I haven’t walked in their shoes. Their statements will most often depict the hopelessness of this world, the futility of living life poorly, and can sound like the ‘last word’ of the day. But after listening, after offering empathy first before words, after giving a creative gift, and laying a foundation of true friendship, there will be a time for me to frame their truthful words with the ‘hope that lies before us.’
Lord, I don’t want to fill the air with my words. I want apples of gold to come forth – truth with grace, truth with mercy. Amen