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Caring Enough to Confront

5 tools to help you speak truth with love

When Trisha moved into Michelle's neighborhood, they became fast friends.

Their personalities clicked and they had a lot in common, including church involvement and same-aged children. Before long, Trisha and Michelle established a deep, heartfelt friendship.

Then Michelle's husband began spending significant amounts of time out of town for work. During this time, Trisha noticed Michelle had struck up an unusually friendly relationship with the contractor renovating her house. Almost every time Trisha looked out her front window, she saw the contractor's car in Michelle's driveway, sometimes late into the night.

Trisha was heartsick. She knew Michelle was committed to her family and to God's commands. So Trisha prayed—and then loved Michelle enough to confront her with her concerns.

When Trisha asked Michelle about her late-night visitor, she poured out her pain, hurt, and loneliness, confiding that the "new man" in her life was simply a good friend. But that explanation didn't satisfy Trisha. Lovingly but boldly she told Michelle she was playing with fire. She encouraged Michelle to slam the door on temptation and cling to the comfort only God can give to a lonely, hurting heart. Trisha valued their friendship so much she was willing to risk their relationship in order to do what was best for her friend.

Praise is the sugar that helps the medicine of correction go down.

Not Easy, But Needed

When it comes to our friendships, we'd rather be cheerleaders than corrections officers. That's because confrontation is awkward and uncomfortable. Besides, if we confront a friend, it could damage our relationship.

If we truly love people, we want what's best for them—and sometimes that best requires confrontation and discipline. Matthew 18:15-17 is clear about what we must do if we see someone we love caught up in wrongdoing: "If your brother sins against you {some manuscripts do not have the words against you}, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

When it comes to confrontation, approach is everything. If you sense God prompting you to confront a friend, here are some helpful tools:

1. Self-appraisal. Recently we overheard someone in our church criticizing the way a few youth-group girls were dressing. While her concerns were valid, the woman making the complaint was dressed in a very form-fitting dress. If she'd confronted the girls regarding their lack of modesty, her rebuke would have fallen on deaf ears.

If you're going to be used by God to help restore a friend who's making harmful decisions, you must first take a long, hard look at your life. Obviously no one is perfect, and if you're waiting to be sinless before confronting a friend, you'll never do it. Recognizing you're a fellow struggler, you can say to your friend, "I only share this with you because I trust that you love me enough to come to me when I have a blind spot in my life." This not only prevents a "holier than thou" attitude, it also invites your friend to help in your pursuit of holy living.

2. Humility. Although Carolyn and Jan had been church friends for years, Carolyn began noticing Jan wasn't as friendly as she once was. Then one Sunday morning, Jan completely disregarded Carolyn's friendly greeting. So after Sunday school, she pulled Jan aside and said with true remorse, "Jan, I feel certain I've done something that's offended you. I don't know what it is, but I miss the bond we used to share. Please tell me why you've pulled back from our friendship."

Jan reluctantly talked about the problem. Several months earlier she'd heard Carolyn had instigated a petition to oust one of the church leaders—a close friend of Jan's husband. Carolyn was shocked—the report was false. What a load was lifted from these women's hearts who desired to be in the right relationship with God and others. Carolyn's humble approach to her friend led to a restored friendship. When your heart is humble, everything you say is more palatable.

3. Prayer.James 1:5 reminds us to ask for wisdom and reassures us God will give it to us generously. We don't always know the right words to use or what the other person is dealing with at the time. So, before bringing up an issue to a loved one, we've found it vital to ask God to prepare the hearts of those involved.

Also, choose your form of communication carefully. A phone call can be good in certain situations, but it doesn't show facial expressions, which reveal so much. Whenever possible, face-to-face confrontation is best. Ask God to lead you to the best approach.

4. God's truth. Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Christians have different opinions on matters ranging from drinking to managing money; it's not our place to impose our viewpoints on others. When it comes to scriptural principles, however, we have grounds for confrontation.

That doesn't mean every time a friend has a bad attitude or gossips we should throw a verse at her. Rather, when we see a friend who's fallen into a habitual sin, we should gently use God's Word as a basis for loving admonition. For example, Trisha used Scripture concerning sexual temptation (such as 1 Corinthians 6:18) to confront Michelle, but she also empathized with Michelle's hurting and lonely heart. Trisha helped Michelle see the abundant and satisfying love her heavenly Father has for her.

5. Praise. As Dale Carnegie says in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, "Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his work with Novocaine." Praise is the sugar that helps the medicine of correction go down much more easily.

Several years ago, God nudged Anne to confront Chad, a Christian friend who was compromising his moral convictions in a number of areas. Prayerfully she met with him and began their conversation by telling Chad she admired his intelligence and leadership skills. Anne went on to say God had given him those gifts for a great purpose, then she shared what God had placed on her heart. Chad listened because he sensed Anne's sincere care for his life.

Chad didn't respond with repentance, but he thanked Anne for expressing her concern. Months later as he was preparing to move out of town, Chad sent Anne a letter saying, "You'll never know what an impact you've made in my life. Thank you for your boldness and your concern for me. I didn't want us to go our separate ways without you knowing I've returned to the Lord."

Even if you approach your friend with a heart motivated by love, you may find your pleas for repentance met with disdain or denial. Most of us have a built-in defense mechanism that kicks in when we're confronted about something. Remember we're lovingly planting seeds which will hopefully encourage a fruitful, Christ-centered walk. But also remember when we plant seeds, some may fall on rocky soil and not be received at all.

Our obedience to God's call is more important than the person's response. It's likely your friend needs time to digest the thoughts you've shared. Though it was difficult at first, today Michelle and Trisha's friendship is stronger than ever. More importantly, Michelle has a renewed commitment to her marriage and family, and she feels blessed to know she has a friend who loves her so completely. Of course, in some cases your friend may respond with anger and end the friendship. It's the work of the Holy Spirit to convict, so as you follow God's lead, leave the results in his hands.

Adapted from The Power of a Positive Friend. Copyright © 2004 by Karol Ladd and Terry Ann Kelly. Used with permission of Howard Publishing Co.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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