Truthful, Not Hurtful

Truthful, Not Hurtful

We’ve got this saying in our house that goes “Be truthful, not hurtful.” It’s something we remind ourselves about when we’re having a discussion or handling touchy situations with others.We need to be honest to have authentic relationships but we don’t need to be hurtful (especially not just for the sake of it.)

This mantra also helps us define our motives. Do we really want to say this one thing? What are the repercussions?

Being honest with people is a huge thing in any type of relationship because honesty relates to trust. If your friends can count on you to be the one person in their life that tells it straight, they will appreciate you all the more. If your family knows you are being honest about how you feel, they will understand your boundaries.

In the past, I  struggled with this concept. I have too often said, “It’s okay” when someone has treated me carelessly. I’ve said, “No problem” when people have hurt me. I used to think that was what I was supposed to do. Didn’t Jesus say to turn the other cheek? He did, but Jesus doesn’t want us to continually put ourselves in situations that will hurt us. He doesn’t want us to stand there with a stupid grin on our face as people insult us or worse.

In writing about relationships for the last decade, I’ve coined a term I use a lot: gently honest. It comes from my desire as a Christian to tell the truth but not to do it hurtfully. I was reminded of this recently with someone who was blatantly hurtful toward me and at the same time wanted something from me. (Great combo, right?) The last I had heard from him, he had said something incredibly rude and mean. Others heard it and commented on it. When it happened, I walked away from him, saying nothing. I chided myself about that for years. Should I have stuck up for myself? Most of the time my first instinct is to just stand there stupidly being stunned. I’m the type of person who never thinks of what to say until after I leave.

But then… I was glad I had not given a retort. We didn’t see this person again for many years and I was glad I “turned the other cheek.”

That was until he sent me an email out of the blue with more nastiness and then the request of something he needed from me.


There is a fine line between honesty and rudeness sometimes. What I’m talking about is being gently honest as opposed to brutally honest. On the other hand, there are people that, no matter how gently you tell them something, they won’t be able to hear it.

You said this, five people different heard it.

No I didn’t.

I have it on recording.

That must be altered, I would have never said such a thing.

We’ve all dealt with someone like this, and maybe even have been been someone like this. So forgive them. But remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean you pretend things didn’t happen the way they did. It means you don’t hold it against them, you move on despite them.

Maybe they are lacking self-awareness or are in denial or just living in their own la-la land, but all you can do is gently define your boundaries, you can’t make someone hear truth who is predisposed to denying it and you can’t control the kind of grace they will give you when you give the truthful message.


The “truth” part of this is equally as important as the “being kind” part of this. In the past, when someone would hurt me or just be rude, I’d say, “That’s okay” even though it wasn’t. I usually did this when I didn’t want to “make waves” or I just wanted to be liked. But this was wrong thinking. A kind, assertive person establishes healthy boundaries and shows other people how to treat them.

In the case of this person, I prayed first, and asked God to allow me to speak in a way that He would have me do. Then, I told the truth. I told him that the last thing he had said to me was… (and I repeated it), and he said he never would have said that. But I wasn’t the only one that heard it. People that I wasn’t even friends with came up to me after he had said it and talked about it.

Now that I had told him the truth, it was time to forgive and move on. He would not admit it, but that’s okay. I don’t need his apology in order to forgive. I will not rehash this with him when I talk to him again. It’s done. He and I will probably never be friends, but we won’t be enemies either. I fulfilled the request he made of me and yet still felt good that I had not done so with anger or with an effort to try to get him to treat me better.

There are people who just exasperate you with their mean and clueless behavior. They keep it up, almost as if they’re trying to get a reaction from you. Or, past patterns have taught them to send a jab at someone else when they are unhappy. These folks have their own road to peace and you might not be able to help them find it, but you can be gently honest so at the very least your relationship is not based on lies or negativity.







Cherie Burbach About Cherie Burbach

Cherie Burbach is the founder of Putting on the New. She is a poet, mixed media artist, and freelance writer. She's written for, NBC/Universal,, Christianity Today, and more. Her latest book is: Art and Faith: Mixed Media Art With a Faith-Filled Message. For more, check out her website.


  1. Janet K Brown says:

    Wow, Cherie, this post is thought-provoking. I’m naturally a people-pleaser, but there have been times I went overboard & it was not beneficial to me. I like the idea of being gently honest. I’ll be thinking of this post for a long time. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Jude! I think that people pleasing thing is something we women struggle with a lot. I can relate to that.

  3. I’m probably the opposite of Janet. It took me years to speak the truth gently, and even now, words occasionally come out of my mouth before I even think to pray. I admire how you handled your situation. When we imitate Christ, we don’t drag any regrets when we look back and remember the answers to our prayers for gentle truth.

    • I don’t think you’re alone with saying things before you pray about them! I’ve done that, too. Mostly mine are stunned “uh…. that’s fine” words that are meant to “be nice” when in fact I just don’t want to get into an “argument.” You make a great point, Linda, that imitating Jesus allows us to never be ashamed or regretful with our behavior. I look forward to the day when I am able to do it naturally, without praying to “prep” myself first. 🙂

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