Last night I called one of my closest friends to clarify the time for an upcoming meeting. While we were talking a part of me was aware of the fact that he didn’t sound like his usual self. We shared some general information and then ended the conversation.
As soon as I hung up the phone something inside of me said that I should call him back and ask him if everything was all right. The rational part of me said “Don’t bother, if something was wrong he would tell you.” But the more relational part said, “Call him back. If nothing’s wrong you’ve not lost anything. If something is wrong he’ll know you care.”
I immediately called him back and, sure enough, something was wrong. I was caught almost totally off guard when he told me that he had been frustrated and upset with me for a couple of months. “I had no idea that you were upset with me,” I responded. “Would you be willing to get together and share some of you concerns with me?” I asked. “I don’t know what it’s all about but I’ll try to listen, understand, and not be too defensive.”
Within a half hour Joel was at my house and we were talking. It was a bit painful and difficult for both of us. He’s not used to confronting me. I’m not used to being confronted. As a psychologist I know that confrontation can be valuable and is a necessary part of strong relationships but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Even though I know it can be good for me I rarely enjoy being confronted.
As we talked it became clear that both of us had made some mistakes. It had been several months since we had spent much time together. We both had assumed some things, jumped to some negative conclusions and hadn’t taken the time to check them out. None of them were big issues. But if we hadn’t made time to talk, a little miscommunication and misunderstanding could have easily grown into a major problem.
By the time the conversation was over we were able to apologize, laugh a little, affirm our love for each other, and close in a prayer of thanks to God. Because Joel was willing to risk compassionate confrontation we learned to understand and trust each other a bit more. Our friendship grew a little broader and a bit deeper.
I wish I could say that my response to confrontation is always that healthy and mature. It isn’t. I wish I could say that confrontation is always that easy and ends that well but I can’t. Yet over the years, with God’s help and the patience and prayers of my family and friends, my ability to confront and to be confronted has grown.
After over 30 years as a marriage and family counselor and clinical psychologist, I’ve concluded that the most practical resource manual for healthy relationships is the Bible. In Ephesians 4:15 Paul wrote “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (NAS). This and other similar passages make it clear that an essential part of healthy and responsible communication is the willingness and ability to “speak the truth in love.”
Some people like to “speak the truth.” They love sharing their “opinion” about someone else’s weaknesses or shortcomings. They enjoy helping others see things as clearly as they do. But they can be insensitive to others feelings. If someone objects to their thoughtless style they may respond, “Well, the Bible tells us to speak the truth.”
Others like to “speak in love.” They don’t want to risk offending anyone so they only share what they think the other person is secure enough to hear. They may be aware of problems in someone’s life but are afraid that speaking the truth might hurt their feelings so they tip-toe around the issue or else they say nothing at all.
Unfortunately, neither of these two options lead to strong relationships. If you want your marriage and family relationships to be strong and healthy you will need to understand what the Bible means when it tells us to “speak the truth in love.” At first it can be rather awkward and uncomfortable. “After all,” we say to ourselves, “who am I to say something?” We often think of our own failures and shortcomings. The realization of our own weaknesses cause many of us to shrink in shame and say nothing.
The real question isn’t “Who am I to say something?” The real question is “How important is this relationship? How much do I care about this person? How willing am I to endure a shallow and superficial relationship with them?” In II Timothy 4:2 Paul instructs Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” If there is something that has hindered or broken the relationship between you and someone you love, you owe it to them and to yourself to confront them by speaking the truth in love.
If you really care about someone you will risk appearing “super-spiritual.” You will risk offending them. You will risk feeling awkward. You will risk beginning the process of learning how to “speak the truth in love.”
There is no greater sign of true affection, there is no greater compliment you can give someone you love than to value the relationship enough to be willing to risk rejection in the process of loving confrontation. Compassionate confrontation is the pathway to intimacy. True love confronts. True love accepts confrontation. True love learns from the confrontation