What would you do if telling someone the truth would hurt them? Would you still tell them, or would you let them find out on their own? If you’d asked me that several years ago, I’d say without hesitation, “Tell it.” However, having been faced with situations where telling the truth could potentially hurt someone, I’ve realized that God wants us to appreciate not just the value of truth but the importance of how to handle truth.

I still believe that truth is always the best response. However, the challenge becomes when and how to speak the truth. In one past situation, I struggled telling a friend about some inappropriate things that were said to me by her then boyfriend. When I went to a few friends
for advice on whether to tell her, I got an entire range of responses. Some told me that I shouldn’t say anything because women know their men and she probably already knew that he’s unfaithful. Others said that I should tell her as soon as possible because he could tell her that I tried to make a move on him. What surprised me most was that the women who had been victims of infidelity were the most passionate about me not telling her at all and letting her find out on her own.

The one man that I talked to about it encouraged me to use wisdom, weigh the value of the friendship and then decide if it was worth possibly damaging or even losing it. In the end, I told my friend; she said that she appreciated my honesty and shared that she was already planning on breaking up with him. What I told her only confirmed that she was making the right decision. To this day, we are still good friends.

This scenario reminded me of the memorable scene from the movie “A Few Good Men.” Jack Nicholson played rigid Naval officer Col. Nathan R. Jessep who was aggressively questioned by a military prosecutor, played by Tom Cruise. As he was pressed for more details, Nicholson’s character blurted out, “You can’t handle the truth!” More than just a memorable line from a movie, these words also could apply to how and when (if at all) to tell others painful truths.

Sometimes because we decide they can’t handle the truth, we say nothing. However, Ephesians chapter 4:15 points out that “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Often, it’s not the truth that hurts…it’s how it’s presented that makes all the difference.

What do you do when you aren’t the one being told the truth but are the one telling the truth? Can you still handle the truth with grace and wisdom? Like a piece of coal that turns into a diamond over time, the truth may look ugly initially but may prove priceless in the end.

Shewanda Riley, PhD is a Fort Worth, Texas based educator, speaker, and author of the Essence best-seller “Love Hangover: Moving From Pain to Purpose after a Relationship Ends” and “Writing to the Beat of Gods’ Heart: Prayers for Writers.” Email her at preservedbypurpose@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @shewanda.