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Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

No More Christian Nice Girl: Speaking the Truth in Love and Grace

If you are looking for modern-day examples of what it means and doesn't mean to speak the truth in love and grace, look no further than the hit show American Idol.  The show began with three judges who, probably not coincidentally, represented three basic personality types.  Paula Abdul represented the more passive personality.  Her comments toward amateur singers were cordial, but not always truthful.  Her uncertain voice and fidgety body language revealed how uncomfortable Paula was with providing honest, constructive criticism.  Fortunately, she progressed and found the courage to be more truthful, even when doing so earned her an occasional boo from the audience.


Aggressive Simon Cowell is truthful, but oh my, his cutting, callous comments make us wonder if American Idol provides crisis counseling to the many contestants whose young souls are assaulted by him.  Simon demonstrates how being truthful without love is like performing surgery without anesthesia: It gets the job done, but causes unnecessary pain and suffering.  Simon speaks the truth aggressively, without love or graciousness.  But like Paula, he's changed through the years and has learned to soften some of his harsh comments in order for them to be more helpful.


Then there's the "Big Dawg," Randy Jackson.  He's the assertive personality type that is good at being truthful and loving at the same time.  His graciousness prepares his listeners' ears to hear what he has to say so they can improve their performance.  Assertiveness puts other people at ease with grace, love, and care.  Interestingly, Randy hasn't changed much through the years.  He's the same person basically, and that's a good thing. 


Randy also doesn't permit the potential boos of the audience to deter him from speaking the truth and disagreeing with the crowd.  At times, being assertive does involve disagreeing with others; however, that disagreement can be done in a way that is not needlessly confrontational and painful.


To illustrate this type of assertiveness, let's replay some of the uncomfortable situations provided earlier in this chapter, and put you, the reader, in the driver's seat.  But this time, unlike the CNG, imagine you risk some conflict by speaking the truth in love and grace while retaining your dignity and integrity.  As an added bonus, you're going to give others important feedback and information they need for their own personal growth.


You: "I've been considering auditioning for the choir."

Friend Debbie: "You aren't thinking you're going to get any solos, are you?  You don't exactly have a solo-quality voice."

You: (thinking) That was kind of rude, but maybe she's just having a bad day.  I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.  "I didn't say I was looking for a solo.  I enjoy music and think it would be fun to sing in a choir."

Friend Debbie: "Are you sure the choir director accepts members like you—you know, people who enjoy music but don't know anything about it and are looking to just have fun?  I bet he gets irritated with people like that who waste his time goofing off during choir practice."

You: (thinking) Forget the benefit of the doubt.  She puts me down almost every time we are together.  It's time to say something.  "Debbie, you may be unaware of this, but it's hurtful and discouraging when you make comments that suggest I don't know much about music or that I would goof off during practice."

Friend Debbie: "Oh.  Well…I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.  I just didn't want you to be disappointed if the choir audition didn't work out.  I guess I said it the wrong way."

You: "Thanks for acknowledging that, and for your concern for me."


And Debbie wanders off, slightly miffed at what just happened but also wondering if she needs to rein in her tongue in the future.  She might even make the previously unseen connection between her cutting comments and her shrinking number of friends.  Overall, she responded fairly well to the truth assertively spoken in love.  The next example demonstrates a worst-case scenario.


Joe:  "Could you lend me $300?  My car is going to be repossessed unless I come up with some money.  I'll pay you back next month."

You: (thinking) I'd have to get a cash advance on my credit card to lend him money, and I've heard he often has money problems.  "It's hard to tell a friend ‘no,' but I don't have the money to lend, and I also generally don't lend people money."

Joe: "But I am really in a bind!  I will lose my job if I can't drive.  I could probably scrape together half the money if you could come up with $150. Can you at least swing that amount?"

You: (thinking) He's really pushing me hard to lend him money.  He's going to get mad when I stick to my guns.  "Joe, I know you are in a bind and that you really need your car.  But I can't lend you any money."

Joe: "I thought you were my friend!  I would help you out if you were desperate."

You: (thinking) I hate situations like this, but I'm going to be firm.  "We are friends, but I don't appreciate it when you pressure me to do something that isn't a good choice for me.  Please stop asking me to lend you money."

Joe: "Fine!  I guess I'll just walk ten miles to work every day.  Some kind of Christian you are!"


And Joe stomps away, angry and disappointed.


And yes, when a worst-case scenario happens, you may feel kind of yuck afterwards—a mixture of guilt, anger, and sadness—but if you dig a little deeper, you will uncover some good feelings sprouting up too, such as relief, self-respect, and integrity—and they will blossom and grow, especially when you get your credit card statement.  Those positive feelings are only found when you take a risk and take the path of truth.


Keep digging deeper, and you'll discover that what you thought was guilt isn't guilt at all—it's false guilt masquerading as the real thing.  You feel real guilt when you do something that is actually wrong.  But it's not wrong to refuse to lend money you either don't have or don't think is appropriate to lend.  It's actually wise.  However, when you are first learning to say no with conviction, you may feel uneasy and nervous as you practice using your firm no, similar to how you might feel practicing your beginner's Spanish on a trip to Mexico.  Knowing about this troubled feeling in advance will help you not to mislabel your "beginner's nerves" as justified feelings of guilt.  Thankfully, every time you speak the truth in love, you will feel stronger and will grow increasingly comfortable with your new way of communicating.


After you speak the truth in love to people, pay close attention to their response, because they are teaching you who they are and what you can expect from them in the future.  Overall, people tend to fall into one of three response categories: spiritually mature, "getting there," and immature.  Spiritually mature people will receive loving truth well and even thank you for your courage and caring.  They are Proverbs 27:6 people: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of any enemy" (NASB).  Spiritually mature people appreciate that loving truth can sting at times, and prefer it over fake flattery that doesn't help anyone grow.  If you cultivate relationships with them, you are sure to reap bushels of blessings, such as an equitable give-and-take, accountability, and a genuine concern for your well-being.  You'll grow stronger and feel more peaceful and comfortable in your own skin.


"Getting there" people will receive loving truth in a mixed fashion.  They might be displeased or disappointed initially, but after some time, they respect what you said and don't make you pay a lengthy emotional price for your honesty.  It takes them a while to get there (hence their name), but over time, they show themselves to be people who are attempting to value truth and respect boundaries.  They are Ecclesiastes 7:25 people: "So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly."  "Getting there" people are trying to learn; they are imperfect but teachable.  If you cultivate relationships with them, you will reap mostly blessings with an occasional pesky weed.


Immature people will not receive loving truth, no matter how gently you offer it.  You can agonize over what to say, endlessly rehearse your future conversation, and then deliver your pearls of wisdom in a tone more tender than Florence Nightingale—and in the end, it won't help.  The immature want what they want, when they want it, and how they want it, even if having what they want damages you.  They act like demanding, careless two-year-olds (hence their name) and are Jeremiah 9:5 people.  "Each one betrays his friend; no one tells the truth.  They have taught their tongues to speak lies; they wear themselves out doing wrong" (HCSB).  Spiritually immature people wear themselves (and their friends) out with their foolish choices and words.  If you cultivate close relationships with them, you will harvest truckloads of trouble, such as repeatedly being lied to, taken advantage of, and disrespected.


When you accept delivery on truckloads of disrespectful treatment, you are teaching immature people that they can continue to misuse you.  When you allow the immature to dictate the terms of relationships, you are giving them the green light to exploit, neglect, or abuse you.  Isn't it sad how women can see this happening in other people's relationships, but can be so blind to being misused in their own relationships?


Or perhaps they recognize the exploitation, but mistakenly defend doormat behavior by quoting Jesus when he taught "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:38-39).  Be careful how you interpret this passage because Jesus is teaching here that people shouldn't retaliate with harmful words or actions of their own when they are harmed by others.  Simply put, don't seek revenge, but do seek to create healthy boundaries with other people.  Self-defense of your body, emotions, and possessions—and the defense of others—is not the same thing as seeking revenge.  God's Good Women have the freedom to protect what is valuable while also having the responsibility to steer clear of the sin of revenge.  Jesus did not seek revenge, and he had excellent boundaries.  He did not preach or daily live a doormat gospel.  He protected what was valuable and didn't allow himself to be disrespected and abused until doing so had a divine purpose at his crucifixion.


Prior to his Garden of Gethsemane surrender, Jesus never let the spiritually immature control or misuse him.  Early in his ministry, the hometown crowd, angered by his speaking, took Jesus "to the brow of the hill…in order to throw him down the cliff."  Jesus did not accept their physical abuse; instead, "He walked right through the crowd and went on his way" (Luke 4:29-30).  In Luke 13, when a synagogue ruler indignantly protested that Jesus should have waited until the Sabbath was over to miraculously heal a crippled woman, Jesus didn't accept this ridiculous rebuke and ask, "Please may I have another?"  Instead, he answered, "You hypocrites!  Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?  Then should not this woman…be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" (vv. 15-16).


This is just one of many instances where Jesus taught the religious leaders that they couldn't treat him disrespectfully and expect him to take it lying down.  This partly explains why the religious leaders decided to arrest Jesus under the cover of night and bring along a detachment of soldiers.  Past experience with Jesus had taught them that he wasn't afraid of necessary conflict.  They knew he was no doormat.


Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous FaithNo More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying. 

Visit Paul's websites at: http://www.theprotectors.org, and http://www.paulcoughlin.net

Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: http://www.reluctantentertainer.com