By Alicia Yost
Only 30 minutes remained before my ministry event began. We planned to serve 68 women a wonderful meal, complete with chicken, roasted potatoes, and a delicious salad. We turned on the stove, but it refused to heat. We stared down at bowls filled with nearly 50 pounds of raw chicken and realized we had no way to cook it. I checked the clock and thought, dear Lord, this is bad! We didn’t have time to drive home to cook it, and time was running out.
We scrambled through the kitchen in a desperate search for anything, a microwave, a hot plate, even some kindling, lighter fluid, and matches. I was prepared to start a fire in the church parking lot and cook the chicken on wooden skewers! We needed a miracle, a help button. Someone noticed that the burners on the stove were fine, so we placed giant stew pots over six burners and fried the chicken in small batches. By the grace of God everything turned out fine, and none of our guests knew the panic that enveloped the kitchen moments before they arrived. They attributed the red, sweaty glow on our faces to delighted happiness instead of panic and stress.
Our helpers rallied, and we cooked plenty of chicken. Everyone delighted in the meal, including us. At the end of the night, one of our helpers said, “That was hairy. You didn’t seem stressed at all.” My eyes widened. “Oh, I felt stressed all right!” “You were? After all the ways God has provided for your ministry? You shouldn’t feel stressed.”
I’d like to tell you her words enveloped me like a comforting blanket, that they warmed and assured me, but that’s not what happened. I felt annoyed and defensive. I wanted to reject her truth. She was right, of course. God provides for my ministry in unbelievable ways, but while her words were true, love didn’t cover them. Truth and love together are powerful things, but apart from each other, truth – even God’s truth – is easy to reject. Without love, truth can seem accusatory, and most of us will reject accusations.
The woman who shared her truthful words is a good woman, and this was an opportunity to both understand her and cover her in grace. She meant only the best for me, and so I refused to take offense. When something rubs against me, I’ve learned to bring it to God and ask why. He showed me how I often do the same thing to other people. Sometimes, I’m eager to speak truth to others and don’t stop to make sure that I cover my message in love, even if I have the best intentions. This happens most often with my family, especially my children. When my son forgets to take a bath and smells like a rotten carcass, it’s easy for me to say, “Dude, you stink. You need a bath.” But I forget that without love, I injure his spirit with my truth. It would be better to say, “I have clean pajamas waiting for you after you take your shower tonight, buddy.” Speaking this way is a gentle reminder drenched in love and care, rather than a harsh truth.
Love always comes first. Even the most honest words can bring pain when we don’t cover them in love. If we pour our truth through a sieve of love, it strains out the offense and only encouragement remains. We mustn’t shy away from the truth. It’s vital and life-giving, but we should also be careful. Words are explosive materials, and we should use them with care. I need practice to use them well. Ephesians 4:15 talks about “speaking the truth in love” as a way to mature and grow. In fact, it takes a lot of maturity and wisdom to speak truth in a way that is easy for others to receive. Let’s practice licking our lips with love before any words come out of our mouths. Let every word be encouraging, loving, gentle, and used to build someone up. How about we let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
Alicia Yost is an author and language teacher. She is passionate about stories that reflect God’s work in our lives. She co-leads a women’s ministry called Something to Chew On. Her new book, Onward: A Funny, Heartbreaking and Insightful Collection of Faith Lessons, was published in December 2018.