His name was Toby. He had long hair. He wore boots and raced motorcycles. He was the coolest kid in my school. I didn’t have long hair, or wear boots, or ride motorcycles. I wasn’t the coolest kid, not by a long shot, so we were acquaintances, not friends. But one Saturday afternoon fate brought us together for a moment, and it taught me something I’ve never forgotten.
The football field was one of the few places in the small town I grew up in you could go when bored. I was kicking rocks across the cement bleachers when Toby pulled up on his bike (not a motorcycle, but even his regular bike was amazing; it was yellow and had shocks). We started talking and goofing off like boys do, if only for a little while. Our kinds were not supposed to mix, the cool and the uncool. It went against the order of things, like a mathlete dating a cheerleader.
Toby interrupted our bonding time midway with an unexpected question. “Hey, can I tell you something?” From his tone and body language I guessed this wasn’t a random, matter-of-fact query.
“O…Okay, uh, sure,” I stuttered, not believing this was happening. He was letting his defenses down and opening up to me. My hopes kicked into high gear. I could see us walking down the hallways at school as actual bros, sitting at lunch together, flirting with girls, who might actually notice me with him at my side. And then he said it.
“You walk funny.”
Wait. What? I walk funny? “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Everybody makes fun of the way you walk. Like this,” he said and then demonstrated what I can only describe as the gate of a gorilla, shoulders hunched, arms hung low. Dear Lord, I walk like that?! No way. But I had to admit he was right.
Toby, the hippest kid ever who had no reason to help a nerd like me, didn’t leave me there. He showed me how to walk like a normal person. I’d stroll down the bleachers. He’d critique and correct me until I got it right. I left the ball field that day with a new walk, an almost new friend (the order of things righted Monday, but I was okay with it), and a new life lesson.
Sometimes we need to tell the truth, even if it hurts. The Bible expresses this in a Proverb, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6, ESV). If we truly care about someone, we’ll risk hurting them if it means sparing them pain, embarrassment, or trouble. I’ve wondered all these years why my real friends never told me I was being made fun of. They had to have known.
Living this out may mean we reluctantly, rarely, and very carefully tell a wife not to wear that dress, or a child not to sing in the talent show, or even a friend that preaching is probably not his calling. But, like Toby, we don’t leave them there. We take our wife to the store, spend all day if needed, and help her find the perfect outfits which bring out her inner beauty. We give our child singing lessons for as long as it takes to help make her dream a reality. Or we help our friend find areas of ministry for which he’s gifted.
It’s been said that even the most unjust of criticisms contain a kernel of truth. If that’s true, then living out Proverbs 27:6 also means we keep ourselves open to friends’ fault-findings. I didn’t want to hear what Toby said, but I’m so glad he said it. Part of growing up and certainly part of growing in grace is listening to what others say about us, searching for that kernel of truth. Motive is the key. If someone truly loves me, they’ll be honest with me. Knowing that makes their wounds worth bearing.
"Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy" (Proverbs 27:6, ESV).