“It’s time to give it up and focus on baseball.” That was the gist of what my dad told me as I entered high school. “It” was basketball, a game in my home state of Kentucky that creates legends. Give it up? I was already a legend (in my own mind). Between the games in my driveway where I played against myself and the times when I took all the shots in the church league so I could be guaranteed to lead the team in scoring, I was incredible.

Only, I wasn’t. I was short, no so quick, and really not interested in defense.

Dad’s words to me were honest and could have hurt deeply, had I not learned to trust his wisdom and his concern for me over the years.

He was right. I was going nowhere in basketball. I wasn’t that great. But I had a future in baseball, and he knew it. He gave me the honesty I desperately needed at the moment I needed it most.

Proverbs 27:6 speaks to just this: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”

The honesty that comes from a friend is the kind that is both necessary and helpful, even when it hurts. As a player or coach, you and I need people in our lives who will tell us the truth, even when it hurts.

On the other hand, even the greatest compliment from someone who you know isn’t “for” you is simply a lie.

Here are three ways to put this verse into practice with your players, teammates, and coaches.

  1. Be honest, but not critical. I’ve made this commitment with my son. I’m committed to telling him the truth about his skills and performance. He knows that and has come to crave it. At the same time, I ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance so that my honesty doesn’t come from a critical spirit. I want to build him up through honesty, not tear him down. So, before you simply “tell it how it is,” check your heart. What’s your motive? To build up, or to tear down?
  1. Learn the difference between friends and enemies. Pray that God will make you discerning between the two. It’s not helpful to be naive and simply assume everyone has your best interest at heart. Some people don’t. Some people care only about themselves and their unchecked ambition to get where they want to be at all costs. Those are the people who at first might seem to be friends, but wind up as “enemies” because they don’t truly have any friends. At the same time, it’s also not helpful to assume everyone is out to get you. The “me against the world” philosophy is, honestly, stupid and shortsighted. Not everyone is against you, and if they are, you’re likely the problem. Ask God for discernment to tell the difference between the “wounds of a friend” and “the kisses of an enemy.”
  1. Trust your friends, even when it hurts. This is the only way we grow as players/coaches and, more importantly, as people. If no one is willing to tell you the truth, you have a problem. It’s called pride and insecurity. Seek out the truth. Ask your friends to evaluate you. What do they see in you that God needs to change? Where are the rough edges that need to be sanded into the likeness of Jesus? Where do they notice your complete disregard for the work of the Holy Spirit in your life? Listen. Cry if you need to. Get past the anger and hurt. And trust them. If you don’t have these kinds of people in your life, ask God to send them and then trust them when he does.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your honesty with me, and for not leaving this sinner without grace. Please surround me with friends who will do the same in my life. Amen.