Truth be Told!
Recently, Apple TV+ begun streaming a new crime investigation series, called
‘Truth be Told.’ The series follows the stories of a journalist and podcaster, as she re-investigates the case of a convicted murderer, who may have been falsely imprisoned, because of her newspaper reporting. In her pursuit of justice, the podcaster encounters new evidence and information that challenges her perception of the truth.
Conflict as a Story
Like the podcaster, we all present our conflict as a story. It is a story of hurt and pain, of brokenness and betrayal. Not only does the story outline what happened and how it happened, it also articulates the reason why it happened. It’s not a nice story, but it is a story we become obsessed with. It consumes our thoughts all day long and we just can’t let it go.
And it’s a story that needs to be told – to a good friend, to a parent and even our elder. And we need to tell this story, as we need comfort, encouragement and understanding from those around us.
Dr Lenski, a mediation expert, (www.tammylenski.com) explains what happens when we tell our story of conflict:
‘As you tell yourself this story over and over, themes emerge. Certain words, actions or events stand out. These themes shape the conclusions you draw, what you do to soothe yourself, and what you do next in the situation or relationship.
The more you tell yourself the story, or narrative, of the conflict, the more you believe it. It begins to feel right as a way to explain the events. It is the truth.
Except it’s not.
It feels like the truth of the matter because repetition of a message increases it persuasiveness…
It’s your truth, yes. It’s your story, yes.
But is not the story of the conflict.’
Reveals the Heart
The manner in which we frame and present our story of conflict all too often reveals our broken and sinful nature. ‘Our hearts are deceitful above all things’ says the prophet Jeremiah (17:9), and conflict is a sure-fire way of revealing the intentions of the heart.
In our conflict stories, we have a way of editing out our shortcomings and weakness that contribute to the situation. We present our narrative in a way that vindicates our right, and righteousness. We carefully erase inconvenience sinful contributions and perpetuate a story of unprovoked injustice in which we, ourselves are exonerated. Yes, this a proven way to get support and advocates for your cause, but it does not remove your responsibility before God for distorting the truth.
Distorts the Truth
Distorting the truth often occurs when we don’t tell the whole story. We don’t always do this intentionally, however sometimes we do! We remove some details out of the narrative, while exaggerating other details or events. Bit by bit, we slowly revise the story until it becomes our version of the events, our story about what really happened. We tell our story, our way, and the more we do so, the more consumed we become!
All too often the change in narrative is to our advantage, in that we present facts that incriminate our brother, while absolving ourselves of any responsibility. Over and over, as we tell our story, we gain perfect clarity as to the sin and guilt of the offending party, all the while being blind to our sin. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus warns us of our own delusions; ‘Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?’. By distorting our narrative, we are building a compelling case that requires condemnation and judgement of the other party. Sometimes we don’t even realise we have done this. Other times, we don’t care, as we are just hurting so badly.
It seems the more the conflict prolongs, the more often we repeat our story. As we do so, the stronger the case we build against our brother. With growing clarity, our story details the gross sin of the other, all the while calling on those in authority to act. As the narrative evolves, so does our role. As such, we become the judge and jury of the case, to the point we feel obligated to propose disciplinary action. In our conflict story, our truth leads the judgement of the other, while we remain unscathed. Yet, scripture has a warning for that as well. If we are prepared to have the other party harshly and unfairly judged, we can be certain that we will be judged in the same manner (Matt 7:1-5).
Supporting a friend in conflict, also requires a heighten sense of discernment. Standing beside a hurting friend ought not to mean unquestioned agreement with everything one says. Rather, with a measure of sensitivity, a good friend will carefully listen to the conflict story, all the while discerning gaps and inconsistencies in what has been said. This is not to deny or dismiss their hurt, but rather to seek the whole story. ‘Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight!’ These paraphrase words from Proverbs 18:17 ought to encourage honest recollection of a conflict story that seeks justice and truth for both parties.
Conflict is a story. It is our story. It is our truth. But it’s not the whole story or the whole truth. As with any story, our story of conflict ought to be written with extreme caution. Actually, it needs to be re-written, with love. ‘Speak the truth in love’ says the apostle in Ephesians 4, in the middle of a passage on unity and maturity in the body of Christ. Note carefully, that there is no trade-off here – not truth or love – but truth in love. Pursing truth in love, is not so much about the manner of telling the truth, but rather the foundation of which all truth is based (cf. Eph 4:15). Our story of conflict must be story of faith.
A story of faith
Re-writing our story of conflict as a story of faith, means we must acknowledge that even in the midst of disputes God is busy refining our hearts and minds for our good. Further, when we suffer, we must not give in to our old nature, but be renewed by His Spirit so that we ‘get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice’ (Eph 4:31).
All too often we become consumed by our disputes, so that it clouds our hearts and minds. If we are to guard our hearts, as Proverbs 4:23 says, then we are also to re-focus our thoughts too. This is precisely what the apostle Paul said to two sisters caught up in conflict. Focus on the good gifts of God, the things that are true, pure, and honourable (cf. Phil 4:4-9). As hard as it may be, we should not become consumed with our conflict – rather, refocus on Christ, being ‘kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Eph. 4:32).
The Truth be Told
Truth be told – we are lousy storytellers. The fact that we do not always get our story right does not remove the reality of the dispute or disagreement. Neither does it diminish the emotional pain that conflict causes.
However, the encouragement is to take time for self-reflection, to ensure that your story of conflict, is told in faith, showing love and respect for the other party in the dispute. It is a caution to keep our emotions in check, to be honest in our narrative, by acknowledging our sinful contributions, both in actions and attitudes. It is an encouragement not to assume to the role of judge, jury, and executioner, rather to provide grace and mercy to the other party, being prepared to forgive, just as in Christ God forgave you.
In the end, being made aware of our sinful inclinations ought to help us to reframe and refocus our conflict story in a way that honours God and shows love to our brother. In this way, justice and peace in our community may be restored and promoted in a way that gives glory to God.