I was always told that the truth hurts when we don’t like what we are hearing. Jack Nicholson’s movie character told us, “You can’t handle the truth!” Jesus said that “the truth will set you free.” Some people can’t tell the truth, while others tell it so bluntly that it does, in fact, cause pain. The Apostle Paul understood that the truth can be all of those things, so when we speak the truth, it should be done out of a place of love. Even then, as most of us know, it can still cause a negative reaction from the hearer. The truth can be many things; it all depends on whether we agree with it.
I believe that the Bible is true, but not always factual, and sometimes false. This past week I told my congregation that not every part of the Bible is equal to every other part, which brought some strangely confused looks from some of them. For example, the Bible accepts, if not promotes, slavery, which any moral/ethical person would agree is evil. The Christian Scriptures tell women to keep silent in church, which is just about the most foolish thing anyone could believe. The Bible also tells us that the most important task in life is to love God, self, and neighbor and that every other law can be scrutinized (according to Jesus and Paul) through that lens. That is a truth, but not necessarily a fact.
The most challenging thing about speaking the truth with love is that the listener might not agree or feel loved when we do it. We can couch it in soft words – we can speak in soothing tones – we can preface it by telling the person that we love them; in the end, that person will probably only feel the love if they agree with what we are saying. If they don’t, they will probably feel offended or insulted or attacked. Even when love is projected, it isn’t necessarily felt. But we have to do it anyway, don’t we? Too often, the truth is spoken in vindictive or arrogant ways, so it is no wonder that it is so often rejected. The truth shouldn’t be used to diminish someone else when we disagree; the truth should be used to help build all of us up. I have been told hard truths that hit the mark all too well, and my choice was to accept it or fight against it. The truth, in old church language, convicts us. It calls us to repentance.
We all stray from our best journeys from time to time; sometimes we can self-correct – sometimes we can’t. When we love others, we help them along the way; but first, we have to take the log out of our own eye before we can help with other’s splinters (one of my favorite Jesus sayings). We have to love ourselves before we are able to love God and others. Self-love is different from selfishness because it must, to be fully realized, extend beyond us. This is different from narcissism, which stops at the self. We can only speak the truth with love if we love ourselves. And others know it, even if we don’t. Love yourself first – then let it flow to others.
Prayer – Help us, O God, to fix what is hurting in ourselves before we try to help others on their journey. Amen.
Today’s art is “Love yourself” by Lon Portho.