The Tension of Telling the Truth

When it comes to telling the truth, we grapple with a fundamental tension— we’re living in a fallen world as imperfect beings, yet we also recognize and long for the beauty of truth.

When it comes to relationships, especially close ones, this tension can become even more complex. The fear of potential consequences often competes with our desire to be honest and authentic.

Navigating this path can be tricky. There’s a fine line between being authentic and being cruel. What’s needed is a generous spirit, an understanding of how much truth we can bear, and kindness.

Dan closes the episode with the gentle reminder: “And this is why I keep coming back to Jesus being able to say, I am the way and the truth and the life. And if I’m intending to follow, to be aligned and alive and molded, then I want that way. I want that truth. I want that life. And I’m going to find it not in myself, not in you, but in him, and therefore in me, and you and us. And it just holds the tension that what we dream we will never get, but what we dream we will become.”

Episode Transcript:

Dan: Well, let’s establish one thing from our last conversation. You are a really bad liar.

Rachael: Yeah, when I’m wittingly trying, it doesn’t always go well for me.

Dan: Let’s just go, I’m not going to ask you to do this, but just to go, literally, my great-grandparents broke out of whatever institution they were in.

Rachael: I mean, can’t you just see like fragile old people climbing out a window, throwing the bag out, running along the railroad tracks.

Dan: Actually, to be very honest, I can actually see my children somewhat afraid of that with regard to me. But what I’ve told them is when we start looking for that kind of living, I want a place that has 24/7 availability of at least three different kinds of soft serve ice cream.

Rachael: 24/7?

Dan: 24/7. So that will keep me in the institution long enough. Otherwise, if I don’t have soft serve, I would be breaking out the way your great grandparents did.

Rachael: Well, side note, my grandmother, who you’ve met has transitioned into assisted living and within one week of being there, she is now the president of the community board or… yeah.

Dan: Okay. I think you know what? We don’t normally do this on a podcast. Podcast and let’s talk about future podcasts, but I do think it would be important to have a time we talk about grandparents because your grandmother is a glorious human being who’s been very central, and I would say the same for mine, but for the moment, what we’re addressing is the issue of we don’t tell the truth. What we dealt with last time was the reality that we lie, we consciously boldface lie and sometimes lie in a way that feels deceptive, but we either literally justify it, or at least some inclination is it’s better not to tell the whole truth. So what we’re addressing today is that we don’t tell people the truth, and I think that has just as much importance as the other category. If we can at least begin to name no surprise that we deceive and we’re self deceived, once we’ve at least made that step, then we can move into this in one sense, even more complicated realm. And that is what truths do we tell and what truths do we keep from telling maybe developmentally or maybe never at all. And that leaves us, I think particularly in marriages, in really complicated waters.


Rachael: I’m laughing because I might be a bad liar… sometimes I’m good. I don’t want to give off too much of like, oh, Rachael, she’s so innocent. She’s such a bad liar. Sometimes I can be a good liar. I like to protect… yeah.

Dan: Well, you admitted last time that I’ve grown better over the years. It’s not something I think you want to claim as maturity, but that you’ve actually gotten better.

Rachael: I’ve just gotten less afraid is really what’s happened. I’ve gotten more love, so I’ve gotten less afraid of not getting loved. That’s really what’s happened. No, but this realm of we don’t tell the truth feels much more, something, I’m like, oh, I’m swimming in this all the time. And is it because I don’t like telling the truth? No, it’s because I’m still a recovering codependent and I still am very afraid of how my desires and needs will impact people’s ability to stay in relationship with me. I still have deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep fears that all the time Michael will be like, whoa, what do you think? What should we plan for dinner this week? What are you feeling? Like? Oh no, I’m very open. Whatever everybody wants. And so then he might name something and then I’m like, no, I don’t want that. And so this negotiating with our desires known and sometimes below the surface, but that make themselves known when we don’t tell the truth whether we choose to reveal that or not. But I think this is that realm of when we’re in the realm of desire and competing desires and how do we negotiate that because that’s really what it is for me. I don’t want my desires to impact somebody else and their desires, and I’d rather defer mine so that other people can be happy. But what that leads to is a growing resentment and a feeling of abandonment that I’m not being considered that then I get to this is… like Michael and I laugh all the time. This is so much our work, and again, I have my own work with him. I’m just talking about myself right now that I won’t disclose my needs, but I desperately want them to be attuned to and met. And so then I will grow in resentment and be mad at him about something that I have yet to actually tell the truth about and communicate.

Dan: And that bind is always at play. You can’t escape. It’s not like you choose one or the other, or when you do choose one or the other, you’ve given up your humanity. You either given up connection with others or you’ve given up the fact that you are different and meant to be different than everyone else within that world. So we’re talking about a fundamental tension of living in a fallen world as fallen people and yet as glorious people in a glorious beautiful world, those tensions are always at play. How do you live with that in your marriage, given your codependency and history?

Rachael: Yeah, I mean it’s such a good question and in some ways when we’re talking about we don’t tell the truth, we’re also talking about attachment styles, right, and how we navigate that bind you’re talking about with intimacy and individuation. So in my marriage, I am more on the, I will choose intimacy over self. And my husband, even though he actually I think would choose intimacy, he would probably more go the other way. He’ll choose separation to hold on to some sense of self. And we both have places where that switches because of our stories and our dynamics. And so how I navigate that, it’s hard and it’s been a, in some ways, being in a sleep deprived postpartum season has made me a lot more honest. And I would love to say I do that with a lot of grace, but it’s mostly coming out in places of desperation where I’m like, I don’t even care if I need too much right now. I have to sleep a few more hours. It’s just, I am much more readily asking for my needs. But it’s almost like because I don’t have a choice if I don’t ask, it’s like sink or swim.

Dan: Well, and important to underscore, there are just times where the physicality of our desire rules over our fear of relational consequences and that you’re just naming something for many women who bear not only the realm of their own work, but also the realm of their own deprivation, sleep and otherwise. So yeah, such an important category.

Rachael: And I think, but that does raise my anxiety there, is that for me to have the courage to not be afraid of the consequences and to let other people be who they are and trust that there’s kindness and goodness, capacity to love and to move toward it does raise my anxiety. It’s like all the time I am negotiating even within myself, what is my truth? What do I want? What are my desires? What are my needs? So I think in some ways that’s part of what makes this complex is it’s not like we always don’t tell the truth. We know what the truth is and we just don’t tell it. A lot of times we’re actually needing to take time and tend to what is the truth of our desire, our need, what we’re longing for, and how much disappointment can we bear? How much hope can we bear? What are the stories that have shaped? So for me, all of those stories are there. Where have I asked for help or had needs that went really unmet? Where has my need for connection or my desire for connection led to rejection and abandonment? I mean, that’s why, again, this realm is so deeply and in-storied and so deeply embodied.

Dan: Oh, so connected to both. My own sense is there’s so little that matters to me that where we eat, what we do, but that’s built on the framework of I have one fundamental, shall we say, desire, structure. And that is to escape the presence of my mother. That’s a strong desire. So when issues would come up, for example, when you work in a Christian institution, I have so many people who have said sentences like, oh, it just must be so good to work with people who love you and love Jesus and work together. I know there must be conflicts, but it’s really good, isn’t it? And the answer is, yeah, it’s, it really is, and it’s a living hell.

Rachael: It’s one of those ones where I wish people could see our faces,

Dan: The level of honesty and deceit, the level of envy, the level of judgment, the level of fear, blah, blah, blah. If anything, the dynamics get even more intense because the stakes are higher, but also therefore the need for character drives the virtue of deceit even higher. So all that to say, there have been so many times over the last 25 years where terrible things were said or done in the context of the Seattle School or the Allender Center. And I can’t tell Becky, and that’s my phrase, I can’t tell her it’s not for her to have to bear and it feels generous. But on the other hand, the structure of my life was I can’t tell anybody anything about what’s going on because it would get me in the web again. And that strong I impulse of escape. Escape is I don’t care where I go as long as I’m not in the web. So when you begin to assess how your story shapes what you tell and what don’t. What you are aware of desiring and what you actually do desire even more than shall we say some of the other peripheral desires, this is a web, isn’t it?

Rachael: Well, and then in my particular situation, and I think this would speak to others as well, when you throw in the story of a previous marriage, previous marital heartache, previous marital dynamics, so even at times, and I’m very fortunate to be married to someone who’s fiercely committed to doing his work and pursuing healing and staying in it, but there are times where maybe I want to bring a frustration or I want to bring a desire. And not only am I holding, oh, he’s got childhood stories and different stories that have shaped how he would hear this, I’m also holding, and he’s had a previous experience with someone and how something in this realm, how it will echo and reverberate. And so maybe it would just be better if I just eat that, which again is my instinct because that would be kinder for me to just eat this thing I actually need to bring out into the open because I don’t want to hurt him or I don’t want to trigger him, or I don’t want to activate him, so I’ll just eat it. But the truth is we know you can’t eat it. It doesn’t sound like it metabolizes and then leaves your body. It just stores up somewhere and then comes out sideways. And so this is again, especially in most in your more intimate relationships, whether that’s a marriage, whether that’s in the midst of a family, whether that’s with a dear friend, this is that kind of debris field that you’re walking through of your own heart of somebody else’s. And yet it is where some of the most holy work of building trust, of growing in intimacy can take place. But man alive does it take a tremendous amount of courage. And as we talked about in the last podcast, a tremendous amount of grace because it’s not like it’s easy.

Dan: No. Well, and it comes again to a central theme. Can we hold the tension of the complexity of our own, let alone the other? And together then hold that complexity and that impulse of so much of what I was referring to as the chaos of the Christian organization and then choosing not to share that with Becky. First of all, my wife’s a very wise and insightful woman, and it wasn’t like I could hide it completely. So she would see it in my body and my face, what happened today, I would give her a sentence or two of something happened with blah, blah, blah, no names, but we’re dealing with the detentions of X Y. And again, this is, I’m grateful that I don’t have a wife who’s committed to interrogation, but she also knows my story. She knows thematically that generally I don’t want to tell much of anything to anyone about anything, and yet I do. So she could hold that tension to be able to say, I respect your desire to not burden me, but also to not expose information about people you work with that I do love and care for. And yet I also know you and I know that you don’t actually like telling what goes through you. So holding that tension with me and for me, understanding, I want to be known Understanding. I don’t want to be known. And that becomes something that as a friendship or a marriage, that if you don’t know the tension exists and that the tension creates a tension for you, given your own reality, let alone the mutual reality, then we’re just slipping by one another like ships in the night. And in some sense, when we can share that tension together, then we can begin working toward how we begin to articulate our desire or the realities that were engaging with the full knowledge that I’ll never tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth to anyone ever. Because one, I don’t know it, and two, I’m not sure it’s honoring to you or me or us for that to occur.

Rachael: We’ve talked about this in preparation. I think it’s still something my idealistic self is wrestling with. And I would imagine there are other people going, what do you mean we don’t tell the truth? What do you mean we can’t handle the truth? What do you mean? So we are just supposed to lie to each other. There’s something in me that is still trying to find a way through that’s different while also knowing in my bones what you’re saying is true. So that’s where it’s hitting me.

Dan: Well, and let me put it in the way that I operate as a therapist, and that is when I’m working with a person or a couple, particularly a couple, I’m seeing things in the first five minutes, first half hour for sure that need to be addressed, but can’t be addressed in that first session. But if I don’t tell some truth to see what they do with the truth, then if all I’ve done is ask a bunch of questions and let them depart, I don’t think I’ve done good work. Often what I will bring is the tensions between the two of you are operating with a level at times of cruelty. You make one another pay. Your remark to your wife this moment, do not hear something of the desire to make her suffer. Now, there’d be a lot of therapists who would say, oh my gosh, you don’t ever do anything like that because that implies that people have cruelty. Well, I think people do. So naming a little bit of the truth gives me clarity as to how much truth do you want. And so if I’ve given a little bit of the truth and you can own it, but also more than that, have a curiosity like, yeah, that’s going on, but it’s not what I want. Yeah, that’s true. You can be cruel, but it’s not who you are. It’s not what you want on behalf of the other. Now we’re entering something of that tension ground that gives us something of the reality of our own humanity. The humanity capacity to engage with the other. So I think there’s always a kind of hor d’oeuvre truth. I’m not going to serve you the whole cow in one serving, but a little bit of an hor d’oeuvre, how hungry are you is another way of putting it, and how much do you really want to engage? And I want people to be developmental with me, kindly seeing how much truth in this moment I can bear. And even if I’m known in certain circles as capable of handling a lot, I still hope there would be a generosity of in each and every context, where is he? What does it mean? Not that people should be living with fear and judgment, but with that sense of a tenderness and holiness that we hold with one another as to what can you bear today and how far do you want to go in this labor of love? Doesn’t that sound better?

Rachael: Yeah. Sounds very kind. And I’m laughing because where it’s taking me is I found myself thinking, I think I can bear a lot of truth. I’ve worked really hard to have a strong ego. And then immediately I feel like the Spirit is recalling every moment with my children because children tell you the truth with brutality, they’ll just straight up tell you their truth, which is good. I should say that. I should say this. If they actually feel there’s a healthy enough attachment, they will tell you the truth. No holds barr. And I’m just thinking of all these moments where I’m not handling the truth well and having to go back and say, you don’t have to take care of me emotionally. That’s not your job. I felt very sensitive about that thing that you said, especially in this season where you’re watching me mother, a tiny human, and you have opinions about it and you’re concerned and you want to ask me if I had dairy. So I was laughing ’cause I was thinking of myself kind of like, oh, I’m so good, but I’m so good at that. And then realizing, no, actually I’m just like everybody else. I so long to know the truth and I too need it developmentally. And I love the way you’re putting that. And I’m wondering if you could put a few more words to what you mean by developmentally so that people have imagination for that.

Dan: Well, again, it’s perhaps a legitimate parallel, but breaks down quickly. And that is the notion of physicality and how training works. If I want to be, shall we say in better shape to do something like a half marathon or I want to be able to do this long eight-mile hike, then I’ve got to work. I’ve got to prepare. I’ve got to have a regimen committed to getting to that spot. And do we actually have that as a goal? I want to live well in the tension. That’s different than saying I want to tell the truth. I’d rather have a person say, I want to live in the tension of truth. So learning how to, in one sense, manage your own body’s struggle, anxiety, shame, the tensions of fear of not being enjoyed, abandoned of not being trusted, being able to go, how do I metabolize all that in my body where I’m not writing it off with a dismissive attitude on the other hand, not becoming self-absorbed. So living in that tension of the tension of the tension, again, it’s almost getting ridiculous. But if you can begin that process of letting yourself be human, bringing and receiving, bringing grace, receiving grace, both/and so that you’re able to grace yourself saying, oh, right now I don’t know what’s the right decision. I do know it’s the right decision. As we spoke of last time, that I needed to call Becky and I needed to just say there was wisdom and I was dismissive. I’m actually worse than what I implied, not as bad as what you feared. Now, inviting her to enter that tension for us to enter that tension for me, and then being able to say, those are actually very small matters compared to the larger issues of life, but be faithful with the small, do the workout today. You don’t plan for a half marathon or marathon in a two week period of time. And so if there is this, in one sense intention, I want to learn to live well with the complexity of what the truth calls me to be and to become on my own behalf, but on behalf of others, then I think we’ve got a very different regimen that we’re going to be practicing in order to develop in one sense the muscle memory and physical capacity to bear that tension and to be able to move in and through it for yourself and for the sake of others.

Rachael: Yeah, what I hear in what you’re naming is a real wisdom, a living out of love. And which feels counter to some of the ways I think. I mean, we’ve all experienced people who are committed to telling the truth, or as you’ve named this kind of over… or maybe even a mis-defining of authenticity, where the most important thing is just to put it all out there, come what may, because you’re being authentic or you’re telling the truth. We all know those truth tellers who literally will just chop your head off and be like, well, I’m just telling you the truth. But you’re also, you have contempt, you also have self-righteousness, you also have cruelty. You’re trying to leverage shame as a way to let your truth have impact or bring change. Now, I definitely have places and moments where I’ve utilized all of those things in a moment of just rage or anger or frustration or fear, mostly for me, fear, lots of fear. And so what I hear you saying is that’s not living into the tension of truth telling. That’s actually resolving the tension, but not in a way that brings honor, not in a way that grows intimacy, not in a way that builds trust. And that’s hard work in seasons where contempt feels more true when frustration and resentment feels more true, it is a thawing out of figuring out how to do that in the small, getting back to the face of the other, your own face, the stories that shape you. So I appreciate you parsing that out a little bit more. It helps me have a better imagination for what it is you mean? And you know what, Dan, I do think you are someone that bears that kind of truthfulness and authenticity in ways that is often very unkind to where you are and what your capacity is and what you want to be holding and tending to in a particular moment. So I just wanted to pause and name. Yeah, I feel some of the pain of that.

Dan: Oh, thank you. Yeah. I think, and I hope I’m not moving quickly away from your kindness. Anyone who’s in a leadership position, and I’ve tried to say this a trillion times, that’s every freaking human being. Nobody escapes leadership. Yet there are some who particularly, organizationally, bears the bind that they’re needed, but therefore resented. And in the resentment, often there’s envy or judgment, an effort to, and in many ways, topple, topple the leader, but also we need the leader. And I felt that tension. And I certainly have had the privilege of working with a wide array of leaders from parachurch, church, business and I don’t think anyone in that leadership context feels like they can tell the truth, and yet they have to tell the truth. And yet bearing the truth, telling the truth always creates in many ways a kind of energy which doesn’t feel compenserate to the benefit of having told the truth. So why tell the truth when it only creates more chaos and conflict? It doesn’t so-called help. And I feel that often as a therapist, if I tell you what I see going on, there’s hurt, there’s misunderstanding. There’s often for people that sense of shame, but yet can we hold that together to begin to unearth what your heart really desires, what we desire between us? And this is why I keep coming back to Jesus being able to say, I am the way and the truth and the life. And if I’m intending to follow, to be aligned and alive and molded, then I want that way. I want that truth. I want that life. And I’m going to find it not in myself, not in you, but in him, and therefore in me, and you and us. And it just holds the tension that what we dream we will never get, but what we dream we will become. And in that becoming, which always implies your ongoing, there is some development of closer to who we are and what we want, then it’s worth it somehow. This whole wild, odd, but glorious process is worth it.