Love Ingredients: Truth, Grace, Proportion

Love Ingredients: Truth, Grace, Proportion February 14, 2012

“full of grace and truth” John 1:14

“Who can pull that off?” is the question I ask with all the urgency I can muster because I’m more convinced than ever that this is perhaps the only possible solid foundation upon which genuine intimacy can be built.  Look at any relationship where love continues to ripen and deepen, year after year, and you’ll find that the couple has managed to express both truth and grace.  But there’s more.  The couple has also found a way express these elements at the right time, and in the right proportion. Tools, without a sense of proportion or propriety, can be destructive.  I may need a cutting tool, but if the object to be trimmed is my fingernails and my tool is a chain saw, the results can be bloody painful. Here’s what I mean:

Too Much Truth: “I’m just being honest” is perhaps one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language.  It’s usually the preface to some truth that will, in the end, benefit the truth teller much more than the truth receiver.  In the name of honesty, we run the risk of inflicting great damage.  For all of us, it’s not just a matter of delivering the truth.  It’s matter of learning to deliver the timely word “in season”, which means that it’s possible to say the right thing, in the wrong way, at the wrong time, and do terrible damage.

This is my complaint, sometimes, with honest people.  They leave a trail of damaged relationships in their wake because they haven’t learned the wisdom of staying quiet.  In contrast, consider Jesus:  He chose disciples that he knew had tempers, doubts, petty jealousies, selfish ambitions and, at times, slow minds.  Still, he chose them.  And, rather than offering a pre-emptive assessment of all their strengths and weaknesses, he created an environment where, over time, the light of revelation would expose those areas in need of transformation.

In other words, Jesus didn’t (and still doesn’t) feel the need to change every element of personality in a single day or week.  When someone makes me and my transformation (God knows I need it), their personal mission, and major relational focus, I promise you that I’ll find a way to build a wall and prevent you from entering in.  As a result, that someone is shut out and frustrated, and my weaknesses  remain unchecked.  This is using a chain saw instead of nail clippers.  After 32 years of marriage, I’m convinced that one of the greatest gifts my wife and I are able to offer each other is timely, proprotional truth – offered in a way that’s tailored to favor maximum receptivity on the part of the other.  This way of loving is rooted in the belief that while truth is needed, truth that’s not received is of no value whatsoever, and so truth needs proportion and timeliness, both of which require wisdom and grace.

Too much grace:  Ah, but too much grace is damaging too.  Drugs that are good for moderating inflammation can also kill you, if served up in too high a dose.  There are people in this world who are terrified of either speaking or receiving hard truth.  They flatter in the name of grace, but what they’re offering isn’t grace at all, it’s just plain dishonesty.  They overlook deep failures and character flaws, refusing to bring issues into the light for fear of what might unfold if the status quo is upset.  Counselors call it “enabling”.  Because of it, spouses stay in abusive relationships.   Addictions go unchallenged, even by the addicts closest so called friends.

Grace in proper proportion provides space and time for transformation, and a place of safety for confession.  Too much grace provides space, not for transformation, but for hiding.

Too much truth seems to presume that the time is always now, and the messenger is always us.

Too much grace seems to presume that the time is never now, and the messenger is always someone else.

We could nit-pick here and argue whether too much grace is really grace at all, or too much truth is really truth.  But that would miss the point, which is to say that unless we know when to encourage and when to confront, when to speak and when to be silent, when to say the hard thing, and when to let the hard thing go – we’ll make a mess of our relationships.  Messes are made by people on both sides of this problem, of course, and each of us would be wise to consider how we need to recalibrate our proportions for each relationship and situation.

Having said that, I’ll observe that I’m more concerned than ever with the fallout I’m seeing from situations where truth is used as a chainsaw.  I really don’t care if you can quote chapter and verse about why you’re right and I’m wrong, unless I know that you love me, and I’ll know that you love me because the chapter and verse truth has been delivered (to switch analogies) as an IV drip, in a place of safety and nurture, rather than by sticking my head in a bucket of truth and holding me under, waterboard style.

Sure; I know that I need to receive truth from all sources.  I need to recognize my tendency to shoot the messenger when I don’t want to hear the hard word.  But if we could all respond perfectly to truth when it’s delivered, we wouldn’t need a savior.   That we do need one reminds us that we’re flawed, and as flawed people we need to remember that truth and grace, in just the right proportion for a particular moment or relationship, is what God calls us to pursue.

My valentine’s evening will be spent with someone who knows me better than any person on the planet – knows my doubts, failures, shame, pain, fear.  That I know she loves me anyway is why, when she has the hard word to deliver, I will, in the end, listen and respond.  This truth and grace in proportion thing is, I believe, not only an important conversation; it’s the very reason I need Jesus.  After all, He’s the one who gets this right, and it will be by living in intimacy with that I’ll learn how to do it too.

What do you think?  More truth? More grace? Just right?






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  • Ben Koole

    Good thoughts Richard. I often fall into the trap of neglecting either grace or truth in my interactions with people, or the Lord for that matter.

    It seems like your argument is for a balance between truth and grace, but when I read this I got hung up on the idea that we could have “too much truth” or “too much grace.”

    I can’t get enough of the both of these. In fact, it seems that I am never overwhelmed by too much truth; rather, a whole lot of truth leaves me desperately thirsty for grace.

    On the other side of the coin, I am never ruined by too much grace; instead, grace prepares me to receive that ‘light shining in the darkness” kind of truth.

    Jesus’ great success in loving people was that he was FULL of grace and truth and I feel like my own shortcomings in loving people isn’t “too much” of either, it’s not enough of both.

    I suppose more could be said, but I guess my gut reaction is I’m thristy for more.

    Grace and Peace,
    Ben K.

  • Julie

    I’m a former truth-telling-chainsaw-wielder (just ask all those ex-friends lining the path). But reading your post reminded me that even as He was correcting my carelessness with others, Jesus was careful with me. And in His good timing I’ve experienced the beauty (and fragility) of restored relationships. So I couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Richard!

  • Jim A.

    We too have been married 32 years. We celebrated our Anniversary this past weekend in Vancouver, B.C. We have gone there many years now; as newlyweds, shopping for maternity clothes,buying toys, taking the kids on the train, etc. But this time it was just the two of us. We stopped for lunch in Bellingham to allow me to show her where I hung out in 1968 as a college student. Nothing has changed in Cap Hanson’s in nearly 45 years – she was not impressed.

    So we drove into Vancouver and visited the Rugby fields I played on in the 1960’s, Robson Street, Granville Island markets, Yale Town, Gas town, and the International District. Saturday, we walked for 5-6 hours and took the little boat to Granville – she was very impressed.

    Sensing I was on a roll, I told her the truth; how much in love I was with her; more so than I ever was before. It was a growing and deepening love over the years. As we sat looking at Stanley Park and the water I told her things I had never told anyone. She is, after all, my best friend.

    And how did she respond? She is the most grace filled person I have ever known. Beyond kind. Very intelligent. She smiled and said that she would renew my contract for another year. Thank you Lord. You certainly found the right person for me. She supports my efforts to transform every day. Let’s hope I do a better job in 2012 so I can get my contract renewed again next year.

  • David

    I agree. The amount of grace and truth need to be balanced. As a flawed person I find this line to be extremely hard to straddle within certain aspects of my own life.
    we should examine the balance of grace and truth in general as well as in different parts of our lives. For me, I find it easy to give too much truth in one area and too much grace in another. For example, I never find it hard to point out the flaws or inconsistencies in the believes of other people (although I have discrepancies in my own faith as well) At the same time, when speaking to my wife, I find it difficult to bring up obvious problems in our relationship or about our lack of communication

  • Megan

    Richard, my husband and I listen every week to your sermons on line. And we discuss and take the message to our own inner-city church (in Dayotn, OH). You have a good balance of grace and naked truth in your posts and sermons. You may never know how many lives you touch (and that may be a good thing because your message isn’t yours — it’s Gods’s). Thank you for all you do. God bless you.

  • Justin Pritchard

    Thank you for your insight on Christ’s ability to carefully deliver truth and grace. My wife and I have both grown significantly in our short time at Bethany, thank you. In many cases, I find that I do not receive truth graciously, especially from my spouse. I quickly respond with “my own word of truth” without really listening to what is being said. I am amazed at Christ’s ability to lovingly share the right amount of grace and the right amount of truth, at just the right time.