I made a new friend this week. He is just over three feet tall and full of life. We hung out together for more than an hour during Sunday School as we read a book, sang a praise song and even built a craft together. It was fun and enlightening.

During one of the group activities, he sat beside me. I noticed he kept peeking at me. The curiosity was killing him. Finally he reached up and touched the hair on my chin. He must have been wondering if it were real considering the absence of hair on my head. “You have hair on your chin,” he said as he giggled and turned away.

A few minutes passed. I was looking straight ahead as his curiosity got the best of him. He grinned and said, “You have hair in your nose.” It was all I could do to keep from bursting out in laughter.

Not considering the three cups of coffee I had consumed, I leaned over and whispered in his ear, “We better be quiet or the teacher might get upset with us.” He pulled me close, turned my head away and whispered in my ear, “Your breath stinks.” I nearly fell out of my chair. Like a schoolboy with a bad case of the giggles, I struggled to maintain my composure. His brutal honesty was alarming, hilarious and refreshing all at the same time.

My little buddy had dared to venture where few adults rarely go. Did he realize the profoundness and maturity from which he operated? Did he realize the level of transparency and honesty required to speak so freely? And to think he did it with such innocence and grace.

I never questioned his intentions. I wasn’t offended. I never even considered a cunning comeback. Unlike many adults, this kid had mastered the principles of Ephesians 4:15, the Christ-like ability to speak the truth in love. I not only accepted his rebuke, I was grateful for it.

Somewhere between first grade and our first real job, despite our book learning and social skills development, we lose our ability to relate with each other in openness and honesty. We learn diplomacy and confuse tolerance with truth. Rather than risk going deeper, our relationships survive in shallow and meaningless chatter.

Instead of opening our lives to valuable, life-changing critique, we construct coping mechanisms that desensitize us to our need for improvement. Seeing no change, those who do risk speaking the truth in love grow weary and give up on us. In the end, we are left to ourselves to rot in a pool of self-pity and mediocrity. We never become half the people we were meant to be because we alienate ourselves from clues to improve.

Who is your little buddy? Do you have someone who will speak the truth to you in love? Age has little to do with it. You can survive without a little buddy. But if you do, you better carry a roll of breath mints. You’re going to need them.