Real Friends Say Hard Things: How to Speak Truth in Love
having hard conversations
I was raised in a home where we were taught that we have voices. So my siblings and I spoke up against all types of injustice (even if it meant telling my parents they were wrong in doling out certain punishments!). Us Gees are very forward and opinionated people; I’ve carried that gumption everywhere and gotten in trouble for it often. But sometimes, the trouble was worth it.
In God’s kingdom, we are called to love each other sacrificially. That means setting aside our own comfort in order to love people better. But so often, we neglect to tell each other hard things for fear of the consequences.
As a staff member with InterVarsity, I have the opportunity to share hard truths with students on a daily basis. What would happen if I tried to get out of that because it made me uncomfortable or because I feared that they would run away?
Several of my students would continue to believe lies about their worth.
Some of my students would still have no clue what is getting in the way of them taking risks for Jesus.
A couple of them might still believe that their sin is totally kosher, when it’s actually slowly killing them.
Some would miss out on hearing the gospel for the first time.
Children of God are not called to be cowards in word or deed. The Holy Spirit gives us the authority to speak truth, and we absolutely need to do that for one another. If we don’t, then we’re not being genuine friends and not loving each other well.
Think of Paul in the New Testament. His entire first letter to the Corinthians is essentially a reprimand for their continuous sin. And think of Elijah the prophet in the Old Testament. As King Ahab and the Israelites worshiped the false god Baal, Elijah stood firm, calling them to choose the one true God. These men spoke hard truths over their people so that they would have life with God—real life!
Speaking the truth is not easy, of course. There are often relational consequences because we humans are incredibly prideful. But I think it can be worth it.
How we speak the truth matters, though. Here are some tips to consider when faced with a situation where you may need to say hard things.
Invite the Holy Spirit.
First things first: take a moment to invite the Holy Spirit to work through you in your conversation. Words will pour out that you couldn't have come up with on your own. Letting God’s voice be louder than yours will speak more clearly to your friend.
Bring in the Bible.
The Word is our greatest source of truth. If a Christian friend believes something that’s far from the gospel, remind them what the Bible says! Similar to inviting the Holy Spirit into the conversation, this keeps your advice and exhortation from being just your own. A person who truly knows the Word of God has good authority to speak it to their friends who follow Jesus. Let God’s words do the deeper work!
Always offer grace.
When faced with opportunities to speak into my friends’ lives, my first reaction is often skepticism. Sometimes, I speak out of that and I can offer discouraging or unhelpful words. I think the best option is to always offer grace to your friends. You don’t have to have it all figured out right away, and neither do they.
As James says in the New Testament, we should be quick to listen and slow to speak (see James 1). If your words lack grace, keep silent.
Set aside your insecurities.
Make sure not to let your own insecurities and struggles factor into a hard conversation with a friend. Be relatable, but don’t project your own brokenness on someone during honest conversations. Validating your friends’ feelings and experiences is important.
Paul says it well in Ephesians 4: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (vv. 31-32). We need to first accept the truth of our own brokenness so that we can offer compassion and forgiveness to others in our conversations.
Humility is the best attitude you can bring to any interaction. Never assume you know everything about anything! You do, however, follow a great big God who does! Sharing truth and bringing the Word to our friends is an honor. Speak humbly or—guaranteed—you will be humbled! And that’s painful! Save yourself and your friend that pain.
Loving Each Other Well
You are not responsible for how your friend responds to you; you are only responsible for loving them well. And sometimes that means saying the hardest thing—calling your brothers and sisters out on the sin and lies they engage with, showing them who God really is as opposed to who they want him to be, or speaking truths about their identity that may be incredibly personal.
So let’s love each other with our words by saying the hard things, saying the true things, and saying them with abundant grace for each other.
Bridget Gee is a campus staff member with InterVarsity at Northern Arizona University. You can find her writing, singing and playing her ukulele, or cooking, but primarily when other people are involved. And she feels it necessary to share that her favorite color is orange.
Need more help with community, conflict, and conversations? Check out these resources: