We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.
–Robert Louis Stevenson
One of my friends recently made a statement that kind of floored me. First I thought, “Whaaat?” and then I felt kind of sad. Her statement was that she doesn’t get much feedback from friends—either positive or negative—about how they view or experience her. She has been in a feedback “void.” Nobody telling her she’s doing a bad job, but no one telling her she is doing a great job, either. She is a mature follower of Jesus and has a good sense of her own identity, but I felt sad at the lack of attachment-feedback she was receiving from others. From me!
It made me think of the “Still Faced Experiment” carried out by Edward Tronick in the early ‘70s. In that experiment, a mother presents a non-responsive face to her baby. Not hostile, just blank. No affect at all. After several minutes the baby becomes distressed, seeking connection with the mother by making faces to engage with her. Or crying, trying to elicit any kind of response. The baby eventually just turns away from the mother when there is no change in the mother’s face no matter what she does. Babies come into the world hardwired for attachment, looking for who is looking for them. And isn’t that also true in friendship? As we cultivate friendships, aren’t we also looking for who is looking for and at us?
While we don’t necessarily need feedback to define our identity in adulthood, we absolutely need feedback and input to bless each other, to encourage each other, to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). We need honesty—not just to tell us when we’re getting something wrong, but also to call out the Imago Dei, the image of God, within us. And we often take that for granted when we’ve been in long-term friendships. We forget to tell our friends why we like them!
I’m afraid that “speaking the truth in love” has become synonymous with confrontation. “Hey brother, I want to point out your sin to you because I love you.” But what if the more important aspect of honest love is calling out the beauty of God in one another. Affirming one another. “Hey sister, I just want you to know that you are rather spectacular in the way you love others…in the way you reflect the mercy and humor of God.”
Honesty holds the both/and of blessing AND confronting. Let’s focus on the former for a bit, shall we? Our world—and our friends!—could use some of that today.
ACTION: To whom could you “speak the truth in love” today? What beauty, strength, or aspect of who they are could you call out? Express gratitude for that characteristic in your friendship: call them, send them a note, pray for them. Enjoy them!