Many years ago, when our children were younger, one of my closest friends, who is now in the presence of our Savior, renamed the two of us: Miss Construed and Miss Understood. For a time, conversations we would have with a couple of other people often seemed to break down and, despite our best intentions, what we meant to communicate was not what they heard; the uneasiness between us all was palpable.
We would nervously laugh and say that Miss Construed and Miss Understood were simply not making themselves clear or that the others were merely “deaf” to our actual thoughts. But neither of us found humor in the division and it wasn’t funny when our own friendship was strained a couple of years later by words that were misunderstood and misconstrued.
Throughout that time, the Lord was teaching me, in hard ways, the importance of words spoken (and even unspoken), how they are said, and how they are “heard.” I am thankful that, by God’s grace, she and I forgave each other and recognized that words can so easily build us up or tear us down; but they can also be used to reconcile and grow us.
Truth spoken instead of a lying tongue.
Certainty of fact spoken with kindness instead of a caustic comment.
Life-giving remarks instead of soul-starving declarations.
We can hear them through our own filter or we can choose to hear with a heart bent towards seeking to understand. We can speak rashly, harshly, or just honestly without love or we can learn to think and, even more wisely, to pray before we communicate our thoughts.
Truth be told, I can be reticent to speak when I know it is important but uncomfortable to do so. Sometimes I am more inclined to avoid conflict and “keep the peace” than address significant issues that need to be discussed. That is neither healthy nor loving.
It is why I am trying to make it a practice to ask God to direct both my spoken and written words; to “set a guard over my mouth,” to “keep watch over the door of my lips,” (Psalm 141:3), and to cause “the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to be acceptable to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer!” (Psalm 19:14) – even as I ask Him to make me bold, when necessary, to speak the truth – that challenges – in love!
I am refreshed to hear words of encouragement and it is my desire to give life-lifting breaths to family, friends, or a random stranger! When I know my words have been soothing to a soul, my heart smiles and I thank God. But when I know my words have broken the heart of another – for whatever reason – it breaks mine as well.
Unfortunately, that desire to encourage sometimes falls flat when I know my intentions, but the words that I speak arrive at another’s ears with a completely different perception. I have to be cautious about how I express myself lest my words be misconstrued. Yet, I know that even well thought out sentiments can be equally misinterpreted.
That’s why humble hearts are also needed on the receiving end as well as people willing to sit face-to-face and heart-to-heart to communicate what was heard, what was meant, and how to go forward with that. Sometimes that will lead to healing and unity; other times, it is a point on which to agree to disagree but without leaving a bitter root.
Hard but important words can feel like salt in a wound and, nevertheless, be just what is needed. Sometimes words of caution or challenge are needed from another to me or from me to another.
The balancing act is how to bring them in such a way that we do not come across as either being caustic or demanding without compromising what is true. How can we give words that may sting, but not close the door to continued conversations that will hopefully bring change. In fact, as I write or speak to anyone in any way, I pray that the Holy Spirit will take my words and use them as He sees fit or cause them to be silenced if they dishonor Him or would be received in any way that would not be “helpful for building others up according to their needs.” (Ephesians 4:29)
That being said, I know there are times, the Lord will want to use challenging words; yet the intended heart is not ready to receive correction or, because of a preconceived opinion, will not see the facts and will be resentful of the “messenger” or will seek to justify why the words that pierce their soul are either “hateful,” “hypocritical,” “hurtful,” or “completely off base and judgmental.”
I must also check my response when others bring loving confrontation to my life; I must not be resentful of the “messenger. Rather, before all things, I have to measure my response to any sting I might feel and ask the Lord to show me if and where the message is consistent with what He wants to see moved out of or into me.
There are times to remain silent, to pray diligently for another while refraining from words.
But if we love deeply, there are times, that to remain silent is not loving and can even be a hindrance to the person or a relationship.
Still, our words and our motives must be submitted to God; our conversations taken to the throne of grace before and after. And, if our words are met with resistance and anger, we aren’t to respond in the same way. Instead, we must, in that moment, take the person and their reaction to the Lord and resubmit our own hearts to Him, asking Him to cover any words wrongly spoken and to give us wisdom in moving forward.
“A word aptly spoken (in the right circumstances) is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)
Throughout Proverbs 25, we read of the “goodness” of both a messenger of good news and one who must speak truth that is hard. And yet, it concludes with not seeking one’s own glory and the utmost importance of self-control (both in our actions and our words)!
I know, for a fact, that some of those sweetest “apples of gold” have come from people who have loved me so well that they have spoken hard truths to me; they have challenged me in my attitudes, actions, and/or words. But they have done so for a greater purpose, for God’s glory and my good! They were “faithful wounds” (Proverbs 27:6) and, while it felt like a tearing down in the moment, ultimately God used them to rebuild me, grow me, and strip away those places in my life that were not pleasing to the Lord and were keeping me from my greatest delight in Him and in others!
We speak the truth in love for a purpose!
That purpose is not to prove we are right.
That purpose is not to exact revenge.
That purpose is not to exalt ourselves or the justice of our cause.
That purpose is made clear in Ephesians 4:15 when Paul writes that we are to speak the truth in love – not love of ourselves, but love of God and, so, love for the other person – that “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
We speak the truth that is grounded not in our own opinions or anyone else’s, for that leads to being “tossed back and forth by waves, and every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of people (including ourselves) of deceitful scheming” (v 14).
Rather, the truth is rooted in the very character of God, revealed through His Word that never changes; His story of redemption from beginning to end.
It is not old and outdated as some would claim but is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), written by the very One who created us and knows so much better than any man how He designed us to live as individuals, with Him and with one another.
It is the life-giving, God-breathed Word that is able to refresh and restore our souls, and it profits us by teaching us what is true, making us realize what is wrong in our lives, corrects us in that wrong, and trains us (as an athlete trains for a race) to do what is right and good (2 Timothy 3:16) – for God’s glory and our greatest joy!
We have been created to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever!” How awesome is that!
But we need His Word and His Holy Spirit to see Him as He is and to show us what that glorifying and enjoying Him looks like in light of His redemption of sinners just like us! And He has given us each other to “spur one another on” with shoulders to lean on and words of encouragement and challenge as we “do life” together and as we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
May my words and yours increasingly be life-giving, always pointing to Jesus!
“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” I Thessalonians 5:11