Thursday, August 1, 2013

The agony of deceit

Psalm 116:10-11 (NIV)

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
   “I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
   “Everyone is a liar.”
What’s the last lie you told? Here’s mine from earlier today: I was telling my wife about a conversation I had with my parents this afternoon. I said it started by discussing a mutual friend’s Facebook post. But that wasn’t entirely true — it actually started two seconds earlier when we walked outside the restaurant where we’d had lunch with my siblings. But by referencing the post and not the restaurant, I was able to avoid admitting I’d been invited to go out to eat on my parents’ nickel while she was home with all three kids. She probably wouldn’t have cared, but on the slim chance she might, I thought it best for me to just ignore that part of the story.

Now obviously this isn’t a grave omission. It actually wasn’t a crucial part of the story, either, and as one who is known to introduce extraneous background information into my conversation, skipping over a few nonessential plot points could actually be seen as an improvement. But those are the words of someone who is rationalizing his behavior. I know this approach well because my son has mastered the strategy to the point where nothing is ever his fault even if whatever he does is seen from beginning to end by a large audience.

Is everyone a liar? Actually, I’m willing to guess yes, based on a presumption everyone has lied at one point or another. That’s not to say everyone is a practicing liar — I do think there are some people who are so committed to honesty as a virtue they will not allow themselves to speak anything that is not true. Some take it a step further by feeling compelled to offer truth even when it is not explicitly sought. I am not so bold.

Every parent I know has at least one story of their child lying to them. It’s something of a rite of passage, and it tends to help the parent identify with God from the Garden of Eden story. How is it, we wonder, can someone to whom we have given nothing but love can attempt to deceive us even though we all know the truth of the situation?

Ideally the first lie is a learning experience and it doesn’t lead to habitual deception. That said, I’m lying to myself if I think my kids won’t be dishonest with me at least a few times during their junior high and high school years. After all, what is adolescence if not a period of hiding from your parents how you behave when they’re not around to see you? (Note to my mother: I was a good kid.)

The flip side is the matter of being truthful to my children. I want them to grow up to see honesty as essential to a life worthy of God, so I must be honest with them. But in speaking with children there can be times where withholding facts is generally seen as a prudent part of the parenting process. For example, when they ask about the origin of Baby Four, we give them truth, but we don’t pull out an anatomy textbook and start deciphering the diagrams. We commit to answer their questions in honesty, but try to let them decide to stop asking follow-ups. Are we lying to them? Are we deceiving? I don’t think so, it’s more a case of entering in only the information that will be useful. But I admit it’s a slippery slope.

Part of the slipperiness comes when taking that attitude into conversations with other adults. When I start trying to decide what another person needs to know, instead of simply laying bare the facts, it can be all too easy to blur the lines between discretion and deception.

Working as an amateur and professional journalist for coming up on 18 years has done at least as much for my bent towards honesty as the way I’ve let faith shape my life. But if I’m more honest with my readers than my wife and kids, clearly I’m not exactly walking the intended path. It seems I’m always going to struggle with what I’d call full compliance on this one, and I don’t think I’m alone in that regard.

Truthfulness is one of those choices I get to make several times a day, and I tend to feel I’m only as good as my most recent decision. Being totally honest about the big stuff is great, but I really need to scrub away any and all deception. It’s clear where God wants me to stand on this issue, and it’s doubly clear how important this is because of my role as a father. I can only expect of my kids what I’m willing to give of myself to them, so honesty and respect start with me. I appreciate being challenged and hope to rise to the occasion.

A prayer for August 1:

Lord, I am sorry, so sorry, for the many times when lies escape my mouth. I am equally sorry for the times I lie to myself. There’s never an excuse, it’s always wrong, yet I find it so easy to do when I obviously know better. I don’t know why it happens, what causes me to wander off this particular path. I need your forgiveness above all, and then I need your help to keep me headed the right direction. And not just for my sake, but because of the example I may be setting for my children. Help me scrub all deception and dishonesty from my life. Make me clean that I might be worthy of you. Amen.

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