We all know the feeling. When a loved one sticks their finger or merely bumps up against somewhere tender or wounded or rotten. We know they speak the truth but we aren’t ready or weren’t looking for it. Automatically our guard comes up. It hurts to be hurt. It hurts worse to be hurt-able. So we run for hiding, deny the accusation, deny our vulnerability. We deny reality, the pain that throbs just below the surface: I’m good. You’re wrong. Let’s move on. What’s for dinner?
But maybe we’re cut to the quick. Rage lashes out, suddenly unchained, and we feel free (justified!) to strike back. So on the offensive we go with aggressive or passive-aggressive words (through true! we tell ourselves). We want them to see the pain on our face and to feel our stony coldness or the heat of our anger. We want them to know they are being punished for what they said. Maybe we shut down, or physically withdraw, or maybe things get broken. Words hurt worse than sticks and stones. Soft tongues break bones (Proverbs 25:15).
What’s happened? Aren’t we supposed to speak the truth to each other (Ephesians 4:25)? Shouldn’t we rejoice in true words (1 Corinthians 13:6)? Yes and yes. The willingness to lovingly give and receive truth defines intimacy. Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). But wounds are wounds. The pain of a faithfully given wound still hurts. Akin to life-saving surgery, we ought be grateful to have received the faithful wound but... ouch! Must it hurt so?
It must. Worse than facing painful truth is being unknowingly eaten alive by what is false. Surgical pain is better than that of an unseen but advancing gangrene or cancer. The truth is we live in a decaying world with a weakening body as one among nearly 8 billion other weakening, selfish, and thoughtless people. But the real cancer, our real enemy, is unbelief. The weapon formed against us that must concern us most is that which, right now, designs to draw our attention, affection, habits, trust, hopes, and joy away from Jesus Christ who is truth and life (John 14:6) and love (1 John 4:8) and light (1 John 1:5). Because we are so prone to follow our limited logic and selfish desires, and because this world’s (and many counselors’) continual message is “believe in yourself” and “put yourself first”, and because Satan is a liar (John 8:44) and tempter (2 Corinthians 11:3), we are continually vulnerable to unbelief in the God who is there (John 20:27).
But the worst of it is, not one of us wants to admit our vulnerability and weakness, let alone our failings. No one wants to reckon with the truth. Yet only when we do reckon with it, do we have the glorious blessing of running with our wounds and failings to the God who heals and forgives (Psalm 51, 1 John 1:9). With confidence we can draw near to him (Hebrews 10:22). Only with God will we find freedom from defensiveness, because while true words do cut and wound, they do so that we might be whole and healed. They prune away what is dead. They cut out what is rotten or malignant. They work in us for the sake of what is truly life.
If you have a friend (or pastor, counselor, spouse, loved one, or even a critic) willing to draw near and speak truth, thank God for them. If you don’t, get one! It’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). As God himself shines light into dark places through your friend, praise God! In humility, allow yourself to be exposed. Christ will cover you (Galatians 3:27). Admit weakness. Christ is your strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). Acknowledge failings and sin. Christ is merciful (Ephesians 2:4-5). Agree with and cling to truth (Romans 12:9). Don’t take on shame and condemnation (Romans 8:1) but confess and be free (John 8:31-32). Christ died that you might live (1 Thessalonians 5:10). His wounds are your healing (1 Peter 2:24).