Some years ago while sitting in my office I heard a commotion in the hall. It was a resident in a heated shouting match with Don, one of the staff members. To be more accurate, the resident was yelling and Don was listening. I came out of my office to come to Don’s aid. While walking up to them I felt myself slowly transforming into my Drill Sergeant persona.
I jumped into the exchange, or perhaps a better description would be . . . I took over the conversation. I felt this booming voice rumble up inside of me and thunder out of my mouth. The roar encapsulated the resident and transformed him into a stunned recipient of some tough talk. I told him that his actions were disrespectful, his behavior would not be tolerated, and if he wished to remain at the Mission, he needed to fix it. Part way through my sermon, he stormed off. I looked at a stunned Don, shrugged my shoulders, did an about-face and returned to my desk. I felt good for standing up for Don and also for showing him how to handle situations like that in the future.
Shortly after, there was a faint knock at my door… it was Don. He came into my office and sat down. I saw that his eyes were moistened. He sighed and collected himself, then said, “I’m really bothered by the situation in the hallway.” I said, “I know, he should have never talked to you that way.” Don said, “No, Rodney, I mean the way you handled the situation. The way you talked to him was really harsh.” He continued, “You displayed the same behavior that he did. I know that’s not the kind of guy you are or wish to be.” After a few attempts to justify my actions, I just stopped. I realized how tough it was for Don to confront me, I knew he was doing it because he loved me, and I knew he was right. He loved me enough to confront me. He had courage enough to tell me the truth and he did it without sounding self-righteous. He was careful to not shame me. He spoke the truth in love. It’s never easy to confront someone about their inappropriate behavior. Often, we’re reluctant to have these conversations, because we fear hurting feelings, causing offence, or breaking relationships. Don and I value our friendship and it made the “Truth” easier for him to give and for me to receive. The willingness to tell someone the hard truth can actually strengthen relationships. Relationship is the key when it comes to speaking difficult truths to a person. It makes it easier when the other person also knows they have permission to speak truth to you as well. The correction should be communicated in a way that tells the recipient you know their character is above the momentary behaviour lapse that is being displayed.
“Tough love” or “speaking the truth in love” isn’t about our ability, our strength, or our toughness. It is about love. It is about course correction communicated in a humble, careful, and sensitive manner. Tough love can only be administered when love is established first.
At times God delivers tough love. God is able to admonish me in a way that builds me up and yet challenges me to do better. He secures the relationship before addressing the behavior. God never beats me up and his correction doesn’t bring shame. He has a way of overwhelming me with and confirming His love to me, before He even addresses my behavior. Sometimes He doesn’t even mention my behavior, but my response to being loved makes me want to address my behavior or anything that can be a barrier to receiving more.
Many people come to the Mission as a result of some poor life decisions and it’s our goal to help them not repeat them. In order to have the conversation with them about decisions and consequences we must first communicate our love and show we have their best interests at heart. God has taught us, through the way he deals with us, to secure the relationship before addressing the behavior. Tough love is really not tough at all, not when it’s done God’s way. It shouldn’t even be called tough love. Maybe . . . if you’re not used to it . . . it is “tough” to have someone communicate how special you are, how much you’re loved, and that your wellbeing is more important than the discomfort of speaking to you. When tough love is used correctly, God has to smile, because imitation is the highest form of flattery.
BY RODNEY GASKINS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR