Thursday, December 4, 2014

Winter, Truth, and Being Honest

People always talk about leafless trees as if it's so sad. Year after year, the deciduous dump their red and golden hoards and raise their sticky stumps to the clouds. It's like bones, people say; winter is the season of death.

I disagree. The bare, woven branches of oak, ash, and redbud don't evoke depressing thoughts. Instead of bones, I see interlocking fingers. I see the struts and structures that hold those beautiful leaves exactly in their places. I see the branching habits and the gorgeous patterns of nature.

Trees that have dropped their leaves are showing everything. They are naked, standing tall and unafraid. They are knowable. Open to intimacy like brave lovers beckoning. "This is all of me, the real me."

Winter is my favorite season. It makes me happy, because people escape the cold by snuggling up with loved ones. It makes me feel free, too, like everything is out there. Or should be out there. Here is everything. Here is the real me.


The last time I heard someone talking about "speaking the truth in love," it was in reference to correcting people on Facebook. Quite an application of a verse. I couldn't help wondering if we should have a talk about picking your battles instead.

"Speak truth in love" is one of those phrases that gets tossed about casually. It's cross-stitched onto pillows besides pictures of quaint houses. It reminds us to do the right thing, but it's also used to justify haranguing those we disagree with.

Much as we tend to emphasize one half or another, when taken as a proper whole the words balance each other out. At any time I'm liable to want to either stuff truth down someone's throat or neglect truth in the service of maintaining a loving relationship. In reality, a healthy balance of these two good but often-at-odds concepts is required.

When we wield this verse, it's usually in regards to uncomfortable truth: facts about someone's behavior, consequences, injured parties. We rarely use it for telling our own truths. Truths about who we are that we haven't admitted, sometimes having to dash people's expectations, showing our true selves for good or ill.

In context, the verse doesn't exclude either definition:

"As a result [of being mature in Christ], we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love."
Ephesians 4:14-16 NASB

Basically, we aren't people who believe anything anyone says or who are upset by liars and haters. Instead, we work together as a bunch of people of diverse talents being unified under Christ so we can be built up in love. How? Speaking the truth in love.

The truth that someone is hurting themselves and the people around them, yes.

The truth that you're just not good at this volunteer position and you want to start an arts ministry instead.

The truth that you're falling apart inside and you need psychological help.

The truth that you have doubts about your beliefs.

I love the Greek here because the word interpreted as "speak truth" is actually a compound of "truth" and "be." There are two other words in Greek which literally mean "speak truth," but Paul chose the word that means being truth, living truth, or being true. Paul essentially says, live out truth in love.

If we're all living out truth, we're going to really need that love part. Sometimes telling truths about ourselves hurts others. People have expectations. Our brains possess the useful skill of predicting the outcome of everything we encounter. This can be good, like when we know what's a perfect present for someone or who will be just as geeked out over Mockingjay.

But it gets hairy. People expect you to react a certain way, like certain things, and agree with them on certain issues. This happens all the times between Christians. That's why there are so many denominations. We have a tight little idea for what Christian looks like, and when someone doesn't fit, we don't know how to expand our views.

We need to tell our truths. We need to show who we are. Openness is the path to freedom for everyone. But we need to be respectful in how we do it. We need to be understanding when others are uncomfortable.

I'm surrounded by people who understand mental health issues, but if I weren't, I'd have to be very loving and understanding when I explain my proneness to depression. No, you can't pray it away. Actually, it brings me closer to God. No, it's not a consequence of being a bad person.

Baring oneself is at the heart of intimacy. Some people may view vulnerability like bare tree limbs: death-like, cold, and lonely. But when people see the structures that hold you up and the foundations you build your life on, they can know you. And love you for who you are, without false expectations.

Next time you tell someone a truth about themselves, ask if there's a truth about yourself you also need to speak, in love.

Word count: 818.