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Truth-speakers Wanted Abigail’s defining moment—and what it teaches women today I am, at heart, a non-confrontational person. If I never had to assert myself or bruise anyone’s toes (or ego), I’d be the happiest woman on the planet. But there are moments—like when your father needs lifesaving surgery and his surgeon is more concerned with zipping around in his Jaguar than saving your father’s life—that call for a tough-as-nails statement in no uncertain terms. Contrary to my natural inclination, in those situations (that one actually happened) I can hold my own with the best of them. Speaking the truth when a life depends on it is something I’d rather not do, but I’ll do it when I have to. Trust me—you would, too. But in general, truth speaking calls for something more than fighting for my rights— it requires a balance that Jesus displayed in abundance. Remember, the apostle John described our Master as “full of truth and grace” (John 1:14). The apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians, called everyday believers to that same standard when he encouraged us to show our maturity by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). He actually tied speaking truth lovingly with our need to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” So, the converse is probably true that speaking truth bluntly—or failing to speak truth for fear of offending others—both demonstrate an immaturity that I for one would rather grow out of sooner than later. However, that standard seems unattainable to me. Because if life doesn’t depend on it, I’m apt to let things slide, to try to keep the status quo. And when life does depend on it, I’m not all that into grace or love, but instead I’m all about bluntly speaking the truth most expediently—or loudly.

That said, though, a study of the Word yields a telling situation where real people (as opposed to professional Christians) lived out the speaking of truth in love in a high-stress, life-depends-on-it time. The event unfolded in 1 Samuel 25—in an interaction between Abigail and the rightful king of Israel, David, who was hiding out in the wilderness near her husband Nabal’s profitable shepherding estate. David’s men had protected Nabal’s flocks and shepherds from harm. So, in a time of celebration (sheering season) when feasting was everywhere, David had them ask Nabal for some provisions as a well-deserved thanks for that protection. But Nabal (whose very name means “fool”) laughed in their faces. Furious, David determined to slaughter Nabal’s entire household in retribution. Hardly a kingly decision—and yet, his anger was justified. When a servant ran to Abigail with the news of impending doom, Abigail swung into action—sending on ahead of her a slew of provisions and mounting her donkey to plead personally for her household’s lives. Approaching David, she bowed and spoke calmly and wisely. She offered a sincere apology for her husband’s actions, soothing David’s ego, acknowledging his right to be angry and appealing to his sense of obligation as the future ruler of God’s land. In observing Abigail’s actions I see a courage I hope I never have to exhibit. I also see the truth/grace trait in abundance. Her words

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were priceless—well chosen and well spoken. To his credit David listened to her and sheathed his sword. In fact, she spoke such wisely crafted words of truth tempered with so much grace that she assuaged the anger of both this sword-wielding warrior and his merry band of avengers. Act Decisively But how did she do it? First, she set aside her own heart-pounding fear. She sprung into determined action. She knew the right thing to do and she did it—right away. If Abigail had waited to discuss the matter with a plethora of advisors, David would have completed his vengeance. (He was planning to act decisively before daybreak.) Timeliness really does make a difference, even today. When I was in journalism school, one of the public relations case studies that was timely and hot (I’m dating myself here!) was the Tylenol scare. Perhaps you’re old enough to recall that frightening event when several people died after taking Tylenol pills that had been laced with poison. Although the problem only affected a few isolated individuals, Tylenol’s executives acted decisively and immediately by removing all their capsules from the international marketplace. They didn’t want one more person to take a tainted pill. So, they spoke openly about the situation in the media—even down to purchasing advertisements to keep the public informed in a timely manner. In the classroom we studied this model response, because it demonstrated a publicmindedness that is both rare and desirable: the company knew the right thing to do, and its leaders sprung into action regardless of the financial ramifications. Abigail would have been proud. Be Open and Honest Next, I love the fact that right after bowing to David and introducing herself, Abigail acknowledged her husband’s foolishness. She

didn’t smooth it over or pussy-foot around. She spoke the absolute truth. When I was a spokesperson for a major Chicago utility corporation, my media trainers taught me to own up to the truth in every interaction and interview with reporters, even if it temporarily put my company in a lessthan-stellar light. They drilled into me the directive: Don’t hide the truth. It will come out anyway, they reasoned, so diffuse a volatile situation by being honest and upfront. Don’t act like you have something to hide— and listeners are less likely to be suspicious. That’s what Abigail did. David already knew the truth. So, in speaking truth, Abigail built up her own credibility in his eyes—making the warrior more likely to listen to her next statements—where the true meat of her wisdom lay. Stay Humble You’ve gotta love Abigail. Because where her husband was haughty and crass, she was his alter ego: humble and graceful. Now, if she weren’t so honest, David would have had reason to distrust her humility in addressing him as “my lord,” and her equally deferential language, “Please forgive the trespass of your maidservant. For the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the LORD, and evil is not found in you throughout your days” (1 Sam. 25:27-28). She appealed to David’s sense of calling and obligation as God’s man. In elevating him, she showed she knew her own rightful place, and she demonstrated her own great faith in God. This element of truth speaking is one I particularly need to emulate in my current work. As a writing coach, I have a responsibility for nurturing and growing the talents of dozens of wanna-be authors through a two-year apprenticeship. These adult students pay for my critiquing services, so they expect a good return on their investment.

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Were I to say all wonderful things about their lesson submissions, my comments would hardly be worth the electronic blips and beeps required for me to transmit them via the Internet. But were I to redline every word and tear every tiny error to shreds, I would demoralize and dissuade them from pursuing God’s plan for their lives. This is where speaking the truth in love becomes crucial. Yes, I do have the benefit of two decades of experience as an editor, but for my students’ best interests I work hard to express those bits of wisdom from a heart of compassion and respect. I try to think of myself as a fellow-journeyer rather than an allknowing authority on the one right way to write. In this way I get to see my apprentices mature step by step into qualified communicators. Use Creativity Finally, a careful reading of 1 Samuel 25 shows us that Abigail spoke with a reasoned wisdom that not only validated David’s position but offered a better solution than the path he was determined to take. She gave him an alternative. Speaking the truth bluntly blurts out the problem and leaves it up to the hearer to find his way out of a bad situation. But speaking the truth with love and grace requires participating in making things right. It’s what is required of me when I point out weaknesses in my students’ work. I could use my word processor’s highlighter to indicate problems and leave it that blunt. Or I could graciously show my students how to correct their errors, smooth out their deficiencies, and make better choices in the future. Often I do this by clipping and pasting my own work to illustrate some point. Other times, I rewrite a sentence or two to show an example of how the rest should be rewritten. Whatever the tack, I provide them with step-by-step instructions on how to replace bad writing habits with clearer word choices. I help them

see solutions they didn’t even know were out there. It’s a lesson I picked up from a 4000year-old woman of the Word. Wait for Your Reward So we come back to Abigail once more. The end of her story is that while her words assuage David, they make Nabal’s heart quake (truth will do that to someone who has something to be ashamed of). When she told her husband how close he had been to disaster, he had a stroke and died a few days later. Hearing of this turn of events, David sent up praise to God for vindicating his cause and just as quickly sent messengers to Abigail to invite her to become his wife. Our truth-speaking opportunities probably won’t end in a marriage proposal or with God so quickly disposing of the person who is the cause of our problems, but they’ll always turn out better if we are able to apply the decisiveness, openness, humility and creativity Abigail modeled all those years ago.

This article by Julie-Allyson Ieron is (c) 2011; all rights reserved. For reprint permission contact Joy at conferences@joymediaservices.com

Scripture quotations from the NKJV.

For more from Julie on this subject check out her print/eBook/Bible study: Staying True in a World of Lies--available through our catalog.

Joy Media Services ... The Writing and Speaking Ministry of Julie-Allyson Ieron

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