CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

In Praise of Tough Love

Mar 23, 2018

I find that life is full of things that offer us nice parallels to spiritual truths and lessons. Even brainless television productions can offer us glimpses of spiritual realities. I have written before about various reality TV shows that feature a dysfunctional business badly in need of a massive turnaround before it completely collapses.

They are losing money, customers are not coming, and they have a terrible reputation in the community. Therefore an expert in the field must come along and try to save the failing business. But in so many cases the owners of the business are living in denial.

They think their products or services are not that bad, and really think that at best a bit of tinkering around the edges is all that is needed to make a failing business into a super success. My earlier writeup about this is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/06/25/tough-love/

The businesses are usually restaurants or bakeries or hotels. And a celebrity chef or top-notch hotelier will come in and in a short period of time seek to radically transform the place, with renovations to the building, changes to the menu, but most importantly, new attitudes, desires and motivations to the owners – since they are often the ones mainly responsible for the failing business.

Tough love is how the work of all these experts can be characterised. Just being nice and smiling a lot and winking at all the bad practices, lousy attitudes, mismanagement, and major incompetence just will not cut it. They know that radical surgery is required.

But until these owners and bosses are brought to the place of realising the truth, and seeing just how bad things really are, change is just not possible. As long as they live in delusion, denial and deception, they will never be able to make much-needed changes for the good.

They really need a rebirth. They need a baptism of new insight and illumination. They must be shocked out of their lethargy and lies and brought into the light. And by now you should be able to see the clear spiritual parallels here. The condition of lost sinners is not unlike what we find on these TV shows – but the consequences of course are much more profound.

People are in a natural state of deception and denial. They think they are basically pretty good people. They do not think there is any real emergency, and if they do have an inkling of a few things being amiss, they believe that a few cosmetic changes will be sufficient.

So we can learn from these reality TV shows. Most of these folks are clueless, or living in dreamland. Their business is on the verge of annihilation, but they think things are mostly hunky dory, and at the very most just some superficial changes may be needed.

That is why an outside set of eyes is needed. They are blind and cannot see the real mess they are in. So an expert must come in and jar them back to reality. And of course this is always a painful process. Change can usually be painful. Learning that you had it wrong all along can be painful.

Coming to understand that you have been living an illusion and a life of falsehoods can be painful. That is usually the case with these restaurant owners, etc, and it is usually the case with Christian conversion. The similarities can be quite amazing actually.

As mentioned, the experts have to cut to the quick. They are not there to play games. They must be tough on the owners and bosses, and do what they can to wake them up. Yes they all can show a soft and compassionate side when needed, but normally it is a good swift kick in the pants that is required.

Consider just a few things I heard on one episode of one of these shows recently. The expert got increasingly frustrated and irate with the owner as denials and lousy excuses are thrown out for the failing business. So truth is spoken boldly and unflinchingly, despite the reaction.

Usually the first day of the makeover is a day of hardcore truth revelation. And those on the receiving end usually feel lousy as a result. One owner said words to the effect: ‘I feel terrible. This is the worst day of my life.’ The expert had to remind this person, “I’m sorry but the truth hurts.”

However, once the penny drops and people begin to snap out of their delusions, they see that all this pain and radical change was desperately needed. No Band-Aid remedies would have sufficed. And as the various changes take place (décor renovations, attitude adjustment, relationship restoration, etc), then the owners and workers see the real benefits.

‘It was just like she was reborn’ one staffer said of one transformed boss after the expert had done his thing! Hmm, those are words taken straight out of biblical Christianity. And the proof of the pudding is the new business, with new clientele, profits being made, increased interest from the surrounding community, etc.

So all this tough love was absolutely essential. The truth about the wretched condition of the business had to be told, and told again and again until it sunk in. The owners often have to be shocked out of their complacency and blindness. Only then can real substantial and beneficial change take place.

And sometimes you almost wonder if some of these experts are closet Christians. Their emphasis on truth, on taking personal responsibility, on not making cheap excuses, on not blaming everyone else, etc., is certainly part of the biblical picture as well.

And they are counsellors as much as anything else. Many times it might be a husband-wife ownership team, and they can be at each other’s throats all day. So the expert often has to seek to repair various marriage or family relationships which have gone so far downhill.

Getting a new look to a building or trying to balance the books is actually the easy bit. Getting the owners to repair longstanding damaged relationships is the real vital need. Again, I think believers can learn something here. Tough love is often the way we must proceed.

Whether we are trying to win the lost sinner to the Lord or dealing with feuding Christians and poisonous relationships, we need to be willing to speak truth, even if it hurts. Beating around the bush, winking at sin, making excuses for evil, and trying to just be nice is not going to get us very far.

If you notice that your next-door neighbour’s house is on fire, you would take radical action to alert those inside and try to save life. No polite prayer meetings or wondering if it would be rude to intervene. You would instead smash down the door or bust some windows to get in and seek to alert others and save life.

Sinners heading to a lost eternity also need such drastic action. And Christians spinning out of control in worldliness, compromise and carnality also need firm and direct confrontation. Tough love is needed on so many levels. If you don’t know what this looks like, simply read about the OT prophets, or Jesus cleansing the temple, etc.

If that does not quite inspire you, watch one of these reality TV shows to see what tough love is all about, and how effective it can be.

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