I recently had a conversation with a close friend which uncovered a change of plans related to an activity that involved the both of us. As we tried to talk it through and figure out just how and whether this change would work, my friend got more and more upset. In fact she ended up in tears, something that was generally uncharacteristic for her. I was taken aback by this turn of events; I had not expected her to melt down over this and I ended up telling her that I thought her reaction was rather strong. In doing so, I also asked whether it pointed to something deeper than the specific issue we were trying to hash out.
Tension arose in the air and things got a bit awkward, with long silences. However because our friendship has endured for a few years and because this happened in my home (read: a safe place) while another friend was listening in and observing, we decided to step back for a minute and try to work out what had gone wrong.
As we talked through what had just happened, where the change in plans arose, why it arose, and how we had each reacted, my friend told me she’d felt judged by me. That was hard for me to hear.
I hadn’t intended to pass judgement on her; I was reacting aloud to the new info I had just learned about the change and as I watched her reaction, I thought I recognized that something deeper was really at issue – which it turns out it actually was. However, being told I had judged her convicted me as well. Over the next few days I found myself mulling over the difference between judging someone and speaking truth in a loving way.
Obviously when we speak truthfully, our motive should be guided by a genuine love and a desire for the other person’s well being and flourishing. I do think that’s where my questions and subsequent conversation came from – but you know what? It didn’t matter. She’d received my comments as judgmental and hurtful and that was what counted in those moments. Ouch!
As I talked this situation over with a wise and trusted friend who is also a counselor, she helped me to see that perhaps my tone may have conveyed a sense of judgement, even if the words themselves were kind and kindly meant.
And she reminded me that the litmus test for any kind of loving, be it truth telling or some other action is to ask yourself this: What does it look like to love this person in this place right now?
You may need to take a deep breath as I did before you come to an answer on this one. And as you continue to seek to love the people around you, you may find yourself doing a lot of deep, slow breathing!