The Truth in Love

The Truth in Love: Lifted from its biblical context on unity and maturity among believers (Eph. 4:15), this phrase is often used as a precursor to a hurtful or insensitive comment. Similar to “Now don’t take this the wrong way…”, “I’m just telling you the truth…in love” can be used to absolve the speaker of responsibility while simultaneously undermining the validity of the recipient’s thoughts, feelings or opinions.

Liam is walking, and Dane is fighting back.

Wreck my train track? Fine. I’ll body-slam you to the floor. Push my truck off the table? No problem. I’ll briefly strangle you, then body-slam you to the floor.

Liam toddles unsteadily over to the Cozy Coupe…and is promptly run over. He grabs a toy and receives a smack across the face. He is minding his own business in the exersaucer until he is jabbed in the chest with a found stick.

There are a lot of tears and time-outs around our house these days.

I am sending Dane to sit on the stair-steps four-hundred times a day, my voice getting louder and uglier each time I say it: Time out!! My crouched-down-next-to-him explanation is getting growlier with each repetition: You cannot be mean to your brother. We have to be kind.

By the end of the day, I am curled in a little ball at the end of the couch, whimpering over a glass of wine.

And it’s hard work, this road toward gentleness. It’s not an inherited personality or temperament, not our natural response to a world that crowds us, bothers us, hurts us, takes our stuff.

It is there, put into the deep heart-places of us who were breathed to life by God, but we have to uncover it. Slowly. Painfully. One teaspoon of dirt at a time.


If you’ve spent any time in Christian circles, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this from a well-meaning person: Can I tell you the truth in love? And you steel yourself for it because you know it will go down like syrup-soaked spikes.

Often you hear it from people who do not love you, who barely know you, who perceive some fault in you and feel the need to tell you all about it. In love. Of course.

And sometimes I think that instead of doing the hard work of becoming gentle, kind, people, we have developed a series of shortcuts, manipulations. It is possible (after four-zillion time-outs) to learn not to hit, but still not believe that everyone is valuable, that to be human is to be Beloved.

We find ways to appear gentle without having to wade into another’s pain. We play in the shallows of kindness, settle for nice, perform perfunctory action without love.

But to “speak the truth in love” is not a singular occurrence that can be qualified with a cliché. It is the work of a lifetime. To know Truth down in the deepest places of our hearts takes time. It is work to dig into our own humanity, one lousy spoonful at a time, until we create a channel through which kindness might flow.

In their purest form, truth and love are an inseparable part of one another. To be a Christian is to believe that Christ is Truth, that God is Love. To live that out should look counter-cultural. Truth in love should not leave others feeling bludgeoned and bloodied but rather held. Understood. Valued. Beloved.


Seven in the morning and they’ve just woken up. The whole day is ahead of us. We will do it all again: the hitting, the pushing, the time-outs, the tears. I will teach him again and again the hard beauty of kindness.

I will tell it to myself as I am tempted to judge, to hate, to hurt, to push. I will say it like a mantra as I read emails and talk to people and drive our minivan through an angry world: Truth and love. This is the beating heart of faith. This is the hard work of it, the deep beauty of it.

Dane looks up at me as Liam comes near, grabby and curious and wanting Dane’s juice. “Got to be gentle,” he says, and the way he says it breaks my heart, because it’s killing him. It’s tough, this business about being kind. It’s not what he wants to do.

But he holds steady, touches his brother softly on the arm, learns it all over again.

38 thoughts on “The Truth in Love

  1. You did it once again! You brought me to that stone of remembrance within my inward parts. I remember this phrase being used towards me multiple times and it always felt hurtful rather than helpful. But more importantly I remember my using it towards others as well. I thought that is what maturing believer was to do. I now know better. The example of children shows us so clearly what we are born with pulsating inside of us. You are correct to say that this is a journey…a lifetime journey…a daily awareness.

    1. Thanks Jennifer. I know I’ve done it too; I think we all have even if we haven’t used these particular words. In his teachings, He used the plank-and-speck imagery for a reason I think.

  2. You’ve captured the heart of this tension perfectly. While the truth spoken in love should leave the other person feeling, “Understood. Valued. Beloved,” I think the speaker sometimes wants to be understood and valued as an authority or guide. The low hanging fruit here is a lot of stuff that passes for “dialogue” online that really is nothing more than a competition to sound smarter and snarkier than someone else. Real love and real truth understands and seeks the best for the other person.

    1. I agree with Leigh. Well said, Ed. Thanks for bringing this back to the online dialogue piece too. Sometimes it’s easier to skimp on the “love” part when you can’t see a person’s face, don’t know them as anything but a floating-head-avatar…

  3. Raising the daughter is incredibly difficult for us right now… Thanks for sharing your struggles in a way that reminds me to look to God’s grace for help. Awesomely done, again.

    1. Thanks, Bernard. I empathize (obviously) with your tough season of parenting. Soldier on, friend!

  4. A better rendering of the Greek is “truthing in love.” The NET Bible says, “practicing the truth in love.” It’s really about becoming this mature community together (as you pointed out in your definition), acting out truth according to love, acting like Jesus, in other words. I love how Dane learns to live out this truth in love with his brother. I think it’s a beautiful example.

    1. Thanks for this additional info and clarification Heather. “Truthing in love.” Love that. I vote to officially make “truthing” a word.

  5. Thank you for this. It’s given me the opportunity to give thanks for the handful of communities in my life where this actually happens the way you’d hope it could.

    1. So glad you’re experiencing that, Katherine. And that you’re able to recognize it. Awesome.

    1. Thanks Suzannah. Left a comment on your blog today that would be redundant to repeat here. But I’ll just say I’m here with you, making tiny little daily dents in the Strong Will of the The Toddler. It is the very definition of faith and hope to believe that all these small little dings of discipline will eventually begin to form deep paths for grace.

  6. How can one person so clearly and concisely portray publicly such a difficult and arduous private struggle (that I can echo so often, eerily at times)… and yet not be jaded. Not be beaten. Not have lost all hope.

    Thank you for that: to you and God.

    -guy you’ve met once at A&A D’s house

    1. Thanks Matt. This is beyond kind. I definitely don’t have it figured out, and I’ve lived through some jaded, cynical years. (I sort of believe it’s part of the process.) I am beyond grateful, though, to have moved to a different kind of place where I’m beginning to see the beauty and hope again.

      (P.S. So glad I met you at the D’s house!)

  7. Yes, kind, not settling for nice. So I’m tempted to use the word “wisdom” when I read: “In their purest form, truth and love are an inseparable part of one another. To be a Christian is to believe that Christ is Truth, that God is Love. To live that out should look counter-cultural. Truth in love should not leave others feeling bludgeoned and bloodied but rather held. Understood. Valued. Beloved.”
    Don’t anyone get mad at me now, but aren’t you too young for such wisdom? Thanks for living with the eyes of your heart wide open.

  8. I was the one sitting in the front pew, calling out “Amen!” and “Preach!” throughout this post.

    For starters, I could write a whole post on this point (and maybe I will!):

    “Often you hear it from people who do not love you, who barely know you, who perceive some fault in you and feel the need to tell you all about it. In love. Of course.”

    Because you’re absolutely right—”Truth in love should not leave others feeling bludgeoned and bloodied but rather held. Understood. Valued. Beloved.” Yet it hardly ever does, which makes me think we should need to do SO much work before we ever venture into this territory. Not only do we need to develop deep, loving relationships with individuals over time before we even consider sharing these kinds of “truth” with them, we also need to deeply understand God’s love, grace and forgiveness toward us, in our own messes.

    1. You definitely should write a post on it. I’m sure you have plenty of stories to add! Thanks for the heart-spoken “Amens!” Love you.

  9. I once had the embarrassment of meeting someone for coffee to “speak the truth in love” to them, only to find out they were there to “speak the truth in love” to me. Humbling to say the least.

    You really get to the heart of the matter. Often, this is an excuse for Christians to be lazy. To judge or attack, instead of walk along side.

    Seriously, Addie. Every post. EVERY POST gets to me. Thank you for your words.

    1. Oh yikes. That IS humbling. I’ve definitely done my share of this too. It’s that interesting upside down thing that God does in his world. The more you think you have it figured out, the less you do; the more aware you are of your own failures and struggles, the more you understand. So strange and simple and hard to live.

  10. I love this, so much of What God placed in us in the garden DOES feel covered up in dirt! But it comes out in parenting doesn’t it? How wobbly our legs can be somedays and how hard it is to let our love speak the truth.

    I need to apply this to the way I interact with my loving husband, I backbite and point out helpful suggestions all the while making him feel small. I’ve put an ocean between my truth and love. Thank you for this.

    1. Thank you Leanne. I love how you summed that up: “so much of what God placed in us in the garden does feel covered up in dirt.” Beautifully put. And thanks for your honest words; I can definitely relate and will probably be thinking about that all night.

  11. Ooooh, I cringe because I did this in high school. Even worse, I confronted a friend with two other friends flanking me. Needless to say, it just made my friend defensive and hardened and left her feeling very unloved. Beautiful post, as always.

    1. Thanks, Aubry. (I did it too in high school. So sure I was that I had it all figured out! *cringe*)

  12. Ummm…I love you….and think we should have coffee. I have been saying this very same thing lately. Not as good. But similar. Truth and love go hand in hand. Truth without love is harsh and unrelational. Love without truth is permissive and neglectful. We need both. Honestly, I think the love part comes first. People are more willing to be receptive to the truth part when they know where its coming from.

    1. I’ve observed for years now, that some churches are good at the love part and others good at the truth part, but neither is acceptable to the Lord of the church. While the Bible is clear that love is the driver of all valuable things, the most loving thing most times is to speak the truth! Much of what passes for love simply isn’t very loving for its diversion from truth.

  13. It’s so easy to offer advice, to be the smart, wise, intelligent and well-meaning person when it’s somebody else you are criticising, but how difficult it is when we are the subject of such advice! Nobody likes being taken to task, to being told something we don’t want to hear, no matter how well-meaning the other person is! Anyone can offer advice, if they don’t really care one way or the other, but it’s much harder to be honest about ourselves and our own faults, isn’t it?!

    1. Yes, it can be definitely hard to hear the truth when it’s not something you want to hear. I know that I’ve never been great with criticism…or really even with speaking truth if it’s a hard one to say. I act cowardly and call it gentleness. What I want to cultivate is a gentleness that truly loves others in the most honest, life-giving way possible.

  14. Thank you. I’m in the midst of reconciliation with a friend in which there are still hard things to be said. I’m struggling to know whether and how to say them. This is just what I needed:

    “Truth in love should not leave others feeling bludgeoned and bloodied but rather held. Understood. Valued. Beloved.”

    1. That can be a tough place to be, and I’m thankful for people like you in the world who are committed to the hard work of reconciliation instead of just throwing in the towel. Praying peace and grace over you both.

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