When Saying it “With Love” is not enough

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There’s this thing that’s super popular (particularly in Christian circles): When we have something to say to someone that is difficult for us to say – or difficult for them to hear – we like to start it off by saying something along the lines of “I’m telling you this because I Love you”.

Sometimes what follows is a sincere attempt to reveal a wound, or talk about a behaviour that we believe is hurting the person. It’s well intended, and the goal of the conversation is to help bring healing and reconnection. And our words, carefully chosen, aimed at the behaviour and acknowledging our own biases and perceptions that may be influencing our interpretations, actually produce the intended effect. And that is good.

Sometimes, the prologue is just an attempt to make ourselves feel better about saying something that is actually aimed at hurting, and creating shame and doubt and guilt in the person we are talking to, while manipulating their behaviour to meet our demands. That is not good.

But sometimes – most of the time, I think – what follows is something in between the two. Someone, with a sincere intent to help and heal, says something that instead produces pain, shame, guilt and deep hurt. Something that while truly well intentioned turns out to be a knife plunged deep into an already festering wound.

This hurt is even worse than that inflicted by someone who intended to hurt us. When we know someone is out to hurt us, it’s easier to let go of their words. It’s easier to walk away from a toxic relationship, to reason with ourselves that even though it hurts (and to be clear, it still hurts) that person is not our friend, and has no interest in our growth or happiness. You expect your enemies to try to hurt you.

But when the person who hurts us does so and we know they truly do love us, it makes us start to question ourselves. After all, why would someone who really loves us tell us something that isn’t true? How can they be wrong? Doesn’t it mean something that they felt so strongly that they had to speak up? Doesn’t is mean they must be right?

No.

It means they are human. It means they love us, but they do so imperfectly. It means they have their own filters that influence their perceptions, and sometimes – even when they have the best of intentions – they say hurtful things. They say true things in hurtful ways. Or they say untrue things in hurtful ways.

There is this idea perpetuated by our fairytales, by our modern conception of marriage, by our “me” culture, that if anything or anyone hurts you, you just cut it out. There is an incredibly popular book by Marie Kondo, where she advises that you go through all of your possessions one by one, and only if they spark joy do you hold onto them. (Side note: when it comes to stuff, I’m all for having less of it. None of it will make you happy) But what kind of an approach is that? To only hold on to the things that spark joy? If we followed that logic into all areas of life we’d get divorced the moment someone hurt us, we’d buy knew things as soon as the spark ran out from our old things, we’d only take to heart that which was joyful to hear.

Oh how many people live this way.

The truth is, often it’s the people we love most that hurt us most deeply, because their words matter more to us. It’s also true that sometimes the things that change us and grow us the most hurt in the beginning. There is much wisdom that comes from pain, and in my experience my deepest growth requires confronting painful truths in myself.

But when the words used are hurtful, or the message itself is wrong, is there any value in it? My answer is a resounding yes. The value is in teaching us to be humble, because too often we are the ones with those wrong words or wrong ideas. In learning and practicing forgiveness, the kind we find ourselves in need of every moment of every day. In opening a door for deepening our relationships even more if we are willing to tell the other person just how hurtful their words were, or helping them to see their own filters in the same way they tried to help you see yours. Growth is not a one way street.

And when we find ourselves as the deliverer of hurtful words and wrong ideas, the best thing (the only loving thing) we can do is to acknowledge the hurt that we were a part of – even if we had good intentions. To hear the other person’s point of view, and really reflect on where we might have gone wrong. To validate the experience of the one who feels wronged, just as we want to be validated in return.

Because sometimes saying it with love is not enough.

The hard part is figuring out what hurts because it’s wrong, and what hurts because it’s true.

Lord reveal to me my heart.

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