When I first moved from Missouri to Tennessee, I was welcomed by sweet tea, potluck dinners, and people waiting to hold doors for each other. I’m grateful to have soaked in the warmth of Southern hospitality all these years. The shadow side of Southernness, however, is that sometimes I wonder if people say what they really mean. Admittedly, I too have sugar-coated the truth. But I want to speak the truth in love, and I want to hear the truth in love.
When I read the gospels, I’m refreshed by the language Jesus uses with his friends. It makes me want to be a better friend. But I’m also startled: When I read his conversations with Peter or with the disciples or the woman at the well, I realize that I have a lot to learn about telling the truth. Jesus not only spoke frankly but encouraged his friends to do the same.
Consider Thomas, after the Resurrection: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). My discomfort with this demanding statement probably has more to do with my own doubt than with Thomas’s confrontational personality. (Here in the South, disappointments are best kept hidden.) But Thomas speaks up. Jesus graciously hears him and invites him deeper in: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27).
What makes this kind of mutual forthrightness possible, I believe, is hinted at in 1 John: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (3:18). Whole heaps of words can amount to nothing, but in relationships forged of authenticity and deeds, even a few ...1