How honest is too honest? Last week a friend of mine raised this loaded question as she contemplated confessing her past relationship mistakes to her current boyfriend. I fumbled for an answer as I shared my own experience, but it's a tough issue to navigate. What is the line between honest, open communication and unnecessary hurtfulness?
Every situation is different, which is why I'm not sure honesty can be reduced to a formula. Especially when the truth is painful to the point of devastation — those circumstances require a special measure of mercy and timing.
As I thought about my friend's dilemma, I realized that while honesty may not be a formula, there are certainly some helpful "guardrails" that can steer us in the right direction. Whenever you find yourself faced with the task of tough honesty, here are some essentials to keep in mind:
˜ Jesus dealt differently with different people. Jesus did not speak truth to the woman caught in adultery with the same harshness that he spoke to the Pharisees. Similarly, the way you share truth depends on the state of the person and the strength of your relationship with them.
˜ If you are too eager to tell a hard truth then you should probably wait. When you know that you are going to hurt someone with the truth, the telling should come from a place of care and understanding, not judgment.
˜ Honesty for the sake of honesty is of no benefit. A lot of people today are all about "being real," which leads them to share MUCH more than they should. Honesty, however, is not an end in itself, but merely a tool for love. While transparency is important, there are times when withholding information can also be loving.
˜ Don't wait too long. Particularly in romantic relationships, unshared truth only becomes more painful the longer you wait to share it. While timing is certainly critical, there should be no big surprises in the relationship once it becomes serious.
˜ There is no imbalance in baggage. While two people may come to a dating relationship with mistakes of differing consequences, both individuals are equally broken and equally in need of God's love. Acknowledging this "equal baggage" frees us to show mercy and forgiveness in spite of one another's pasts.
˜ On-going struggles benefit from accountability. Honesty about persistent struggles is valuable, but if you have an on-going weakness that is particularly painful to someone you are close to, it may be better to share the details with someone less emotionally invested.
One final piece of advice comes to us from Ephesians 4:15-16, which reminds us to "speak the truth in love." In order to cultivate mature relationships where we relate to one another in uplifting ways, there must exist a careful mixture of both truth and love. Truth without love is ineffective and cruel, and love without truth is not really love to begin with.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." — John 8:31-32
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. — 1 John 3:18
Sharon Hodde Miller is a Southern girl who now lives in Chicago. When she isn't battling the Siberian-like winters of Illinois, she loves reading, writing, ministering to women and hanging out with her husband. For more advice on relationships and faith, you can check out her blog at sheworships.com
© 2011 by Sharon Hodde Miller. All rights reserved.
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