Once I was complaining about an issue and when I finally finished my diatribe a close friend made a quiet, but convicting comment to me. He said, “Rick, that’s not like you to be cynical”. While I didn’t enjoy the rebuke, it was needful and beneficial for me.
That’s what best friends do, correct you when you are wrong. Always graciously, but truthful because of their concern for you. And we are better for their loving honesty. I know that I was more careful with my attitude and words after honest words from a true friend.
On a humorous note, only a real friend will tell you that you have a booger on your nose! Acquaintances will notice it, but feel they don’t know you well enough to help you prevent from being embarrassed. We all need people in hour lives that tell us things no one else will tell us.
This is one of the characteristics of a true friend. The Bible says, “Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:5-6) The word “rebuke” means “to warn or correct”. Real friends will wound us in order that we might be better people.
Such words for the short-term wound our pride. Good friends don’t want to see us hurt ourselves and will do what is uncomfortable (speaking difficult truth) sometimes in order to help us. Johnny Pope said, “The true will set you free, but first it will make you miserable”.
It isn’t until after the hurt subsides that we appreciate the value of honest words. The Bible states, “He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue”. (Proverbs 28:23) Note that the “favour” of being rebuked is “afterwards”. No one enjoys the immediacy of correction. It’s always easier to flatter than it is to correct someone.
Is not this true in our relationship with our parents? In our twenties especially we begin to learn the value of having parents that cared enough to not allow us to do things that would result in our self-destruction.
God’s Word compares the discipline of our earthly parents to that of our Heavenly Father – “For they (our earthly fathers) verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he (our Heavenly Father) for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Hebrews 12:10-11)
Again, in the verse above, note that it is “afterward” when we enjoy the benefit of correction. While it is happening (“the present”) it brings pain and grief. I am so grateful for parents that didn’t allow me to sin and disobey without confronting me. When I was in the middle of receiving correction, it was no fun. The blessing came later after I learned from my mistakes.
I remember when I was playing football at about twelve years of age and a famous NFL football player wore white cleats. Everyone wore black shoes in those days, but I wanted to be “cool” like this well-known athlete. I found some white masking tape and wrapped it around my shoe laces, not the entire area. It wasn’t all white, but enough to look like this celebrity (or so I thought).
As I got in the car for Dad to take me to practice he quickly noticed what I had done. “Son, why do you have that tape on your shoes?” I didn’t want to tell him the truth, that I was trying to mimic this famous athlete. I stammered some reason about it helping me to run faster. Dad saw through it all though and I believe he knew exactly why I had taped my shoes up like that. The only thing he said was, “Go on back inside and cut that tape off from your shoes”. I complied and never did it again.
Certainly it wasn’t wrong for me to do that, but as I got older and thought upon it I greatly appreciated his correction. My father kept me from looking like an idiot in front of my coaches and teammates. His truthfulness was a blessing to me.
There is a caution when speaking truth to your friends and loved ones. I have known people that excused harshness in their words because what they said was true. They almost pride themselves in being brutal in their confrontation. They see it as a virtue.
There is is a balance between love and truth; both are important. Truth is not to be compromised by love, but love is not to be ignored by truth. Keith Miller said, “Love without truth is hypocrisy, but truth without love is brutality”. Both hypocrisy and brutality will keep any relationship from becoming close.
Truth alone is not the only filter for whether or not we should say something. It is the foundation stone as trust is the glue of any lasting relationship. When it is compromised the relationship begins to crumble. However, truth without grace can also destroy a friendship – or your relationship with your spouse, children, or siblings.
I have tried to determine my words by a statement I heard many years ago: are my words true, kind, necessary and helpful? What you say may be true, but if it isn’t necessary, helpful or kind it’s best to keep it to yourself.
There are several areas that apply to close friends being truthful with one another. The most important is in the spiritual realm of life. I believe the Bible teaches a literal Heaven and hell and that belief motivates me to want to help my friends go to Heaven when they die.
My best friend in my teen years was David. We spent hours together and he frequently stayed at my house over night and I was at his home a lot, too. In the 9th grade I had a burden for David’s soul, that he might know Christ and the forgiveness of sin.
I invited him to church with me and he began to attend regularly. One evening after hearing a message from the pastor on how one could be a Christian I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him, “David, wouldn’t you like to know that you are going to Heaven and have your sins forgiven?” He said, “Rick, I would like to know that for sure”. That night we knelt together and prayed and my best pal began a relationship with God.
I didn’t know that less than six years from that moment I would be looking at his body in a casket. My heart was filled with grief at his untimely death and while the sorrow was overwhelming the peace was greater. I knew where he was at that moment. He was in Heaven, not because he was a good person, but because he had trusted Christ as his Savior.
My love for my friend demanded that I tell him about the truths of sin, death, and how Christ had paid for our sins on the cross. As I write these words tomorrow is the thirty-fifth anniversary of his death. I’m glad I told him about Jesus Christ; it brings great peace to my heart and joy that I will see him again.
Another example of how truth spoken from a friend helps us to become better people. Sometimes we are ignorant of how others perceive us. We are all blind to bad habits we have. We need someone to help us correct these areas.
In one of the churches I served as Youth Pastor I had a young man in our group that had tremendous potential. He was brilliant and had a heart for the Lord, but he had a difficult time making friends.
One reason he had trouble making friends is that he would bring some of his school work to church on Sunday and show it to the other teenagers. His marks were always “100” or “A+”. Of course, most of the kids couldn’t compete with him on that level.
My suspicion was that, to him, it was an equalizer as he was not a gifted athlete or had a charismatic personality. So, his grades were a place for him to find significance. The other kids didn’t mock him, but it was a hindrance to making friends as they saw him as a snob.
One evening I was out visiting some of the other young people in our group and had asked this prodigy to tag along so we could talk in between visits. We finished and returned to the church to say our good-byes and I felt a prompting from the Lord to speak to him about his pride in wanting others to know how good he was academically.
“Hey, pal, just before you leave, I want to ask you something?” He had already exited the car and was leaning in the passenger window as it was rolled down. “Sure, Bro. Rick, what do you need?”
I said, “Well, have you noticed that sometimes people in the youth group don’t get excited when you show them your papers and tests you bring in from school?” “Yes, I have noticed it makes them not want to talk to me”.
I said, “I have an idea that they may feel that you are communicating that you are better than they are. Sometimes pride can be subtle that we not know it is in our life. Perhaps it might be best if you kept on bringing your papers to church, but just show them to me so I can see how well you are doing”.
He paused and looked down at the seat while he stood leaning in the window. I silently prayed I hadn’t broken his heart and hurt our relationship. Finally, after about five seconds, he said, “That would be great. I’ll do that. You know, I have never thought about people seeing it from that perspective. Thanks for telling me; I never knew that”.
My young friend did continue to bring his school work to church and shared it only with me and I would sometimes call an adult worker over and affirm his effort and person in front of them. I loved him and saw great potential in his life, but it was about to take a hit if he didn’t learn some social skills.
Though I left that church I kept in touch with all of the kids I could. This young man went on to a Christian college and took courses in missionary aviation and now is a pilot for missionaries. In no way am I saying that was because of me, but I do know my commitment to him being successful (and caring for him) required me to tell him the truth. Relational skills either enhance or limit our ability to influence people.
It’s really true. Only your closest friends will tell you that you have bad breath. We all need people like that in our life! On rare occasions I have given a friend a mint or some gum and said with a smile, “You need this”. That doesn’t happen often because I haven’t earned the right to say it to most people. I sure want someone to tell me when my breath is offensive.
Many years ago I was mentoring a young leader with great potential. He had natural leadership gifts and was also a fine athlete. His favorite television show was “SportsCenter” on ESPN.
One day we were talking about the importance of reading in order to grow as a leader. (I believe it’s true, “All readers aren’t leaders, but all leaders are readers” ). He casually commented that (1) he didn’t enjoy reading and (2) it was difficult for him to find the time to do so.
Without thinking I responded directly, “Well, you would have the time if you would turn off SportsCenter sometimes and give some of those minutes to reading”. It wasn’t said with anger or in a condescending way, but sincerely and kindly.
A few days later he referenced that conversation and what I had said. He had to remind me of it because it wasn’t a big issue to me when I made the statement and I had forgotten about it. He said, “When you said that, it convicted me. I knew that though it wasn’t a sin to watch SportsCenter, my priorities were not correct and I needed to read more. That is going to change in my life”. And it did. Today he is a tremendous spiritual leader. Best friends speak truth to each other and we are better for having known them.
Paula, my wife, is my best friend in the world. We have seven children and as they were growing up there would be times when I would have to correct them. Frequently she was present in those discussions. Occasionally after one of those confrontive meetings (after they left the room) she would gently tell me, “Rick, I think you were too hard on them” or “Maybe your tone of voice doesn’t match your concern for their heart and they are missing your point not because of your words, but your sternness”. And she was right.
I’m better than I would have been in that area had I not had my best friend, my wife, helping me, even if it was uncomfortable in that moment for both of us. (I have helped her, too, in the same way but that is for her to write about in her blog!)
I close with three general statements about speaking truth to a friend. The first two I learned from one of my mentors, Dr. J.R. Faulkner; the last I learned from Gordon MacDonald.
First, never write a personal criticism. If it is negative, share it personally; if it is positive, write it down and give it to them. When it is written it can be revisited by the person many times. Positive words recalled are a blessing; painful words recalled are not a blessing, but a reminder of the criticism.
Second, if you want to say something negative to them, you probably don’t need to say it. If you don’t want to share something that is difficult with a friend, you probably need to do so. The Bible speaks about being “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”. (James 1:19) Anger is quick to speak; wisdom and love are able to wait for an appropriate time to speak.
Third, “We learn more from one rebuke than one thousand affirmations”. Encouraging words are necessary and important, but they don’t help us to grow as much as constructive criticism.
Take some time today to write or call someone that has invested in your life and helped you to grow. Share how they believed in you and how their advice and corrections made you a better person. It may be that you need to just reflect back on your life on those that were “that person” for you – a parent, a teacher, a coach, a pastor, a friend, a relative, a coworker.
Be grateful for the truth tellers in your life, especially when it was difficult. You’re a better person for having known them.