What if I could say to you all the things I wish I could say to you—all the things that come from love? What if we could all say those things to each other? And what if we knew it came from love, and so we wouldn’t get terribly hurt or angry. What if we could hear it in the same gentle, yearning tones from which it issued from a friend’s heart?
You need to let this go.
You need to see a professional.
This thing is hurting you.
When you do this, it makes me hurt.
You need to do the hard thing.
I’ve had them said to me. They were said in love, gently, not in condemnation. When I heard them in the tones of love they didn’t hurt as badly as they could have. I’m glad I heard them, because I needed to. If I had gone on without hearing them—refusing to hear them—it would have made my life smaller, my soul devoid of luster, and my world the size of my pain and my pride. Heeding them led me through places of more pain, but pain that brought health and release instead of the suffocating complacency of denial.
We don’t like these things. We don’t want to say them and we don’t want to hear them. We labor under the delusion that all our friendships must be always pleasant, that to injure a friend in love is unkind. Is it unkind to lance an infection? Does a surgeon commit injustice when he cuts in order to bring healing? We act as if even our love must submit to politeness, as if there was nothing more important than preserving social niceties. Even—or especially? —among those closest to us, those we consider worthy of more than ordinary, daily courtesies.
I wonder, do we refrain more from fear of wounding a friend, or from selfish fear that they will not hear the tones of love and refuse to let us be close any longer? Love hurts when its object is denied, and although the love we bear for a friend may be willing to hurt in order to bring healing, we hesitate to risk rejection. But it seems that the love which motivates us to want to say a hard thing is a relative of Truth, and Truth would not shy away from a hard thing, would it? It occurs to me only now that there are two verses in the Bible that speak to this kind of situation, and they go hand-in-hand for a reason: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Prov 27:17 “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him.” Eph 4:15. If we want Truth in our lives, it will eventually insist we say hard things. Love will insist upon how we say it, and will not grow bitter, even if Truth causes rejection.
Of course I risk the assumption that any situation like this requires beforehand the most honest humility possible. None of us will hear the tones of Love which soften a harsh blow if the tones of voice are dogmatic or scolding. I have found brokenness, in fact, to be the safest tone of voice in which to say the hardest things. And is there not some brokenness, some wounding in the kind of Love that hurts enough for a friend to risk hurting that friend? I think there is. If I did not hurt for you, how much would I really love you?
Finally, I do not mean we speak potentially painful words to one another over trivial—or even irritating—differences of opinion or doctrine or preference. We do not hurt one another without carefully considering I Cor. 10:12, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” The depth I am talking about is when things are deep, and critical or potentially pivotal in a loved one’s life. The kind of thing that may determine the future direction of either health or sickness, hope or despair, faith or bitterness. The kind of thing that makes you yank a child back from the road just before she is struck by a car, the kind of thing that makes you slap a baby’s hand just before he touches a stove—they may cry and become angry, but you have saved them from something worse than the pain or fright you caused them.
We don’t do this lightly. May we hear one another when the time comes that we must.