5 strategies to telling the truth.
A devotion on PROVERBS 12: 15-28
“An honest witness tells the truth, but a false witness tells lies,” Pr. 12:17. That’s as basic as it gets. I consider myself an “honest witness.” Few would claim to consistently be a false witness. Withal, I don’t have to dig very far under the surface to realize that if placed under scrutiny, I may not be as honest as I think I am or claim to be. I lie all too easily.
My friend Amanda shares a hilarious memory of her older family members reminiscing. One person remembers events one way and of course the other remembers it completely differently. The inevitable end is one old coot passionately informing the other, “You’re a damned liar.” The other promptly – and more passionately – retorts, “No, you’re a damned liar!”
I grew up in a community-based culture in Africa. In a more pronounced way than individual-based ones like the USA, these amazing cultures experience an interesting bifurcation. They tend to be shame-driven on the one hand yet specialize in face-saving strategies. That means that by the time you’re done sucking your thumb, you’ve mastered lying. You’re thoroughly trained in being a false witness. You’re a bona fide damned liar!
People who grew up in such a culture (including a family culture, regardless of location) can relate to the story of having a parent who sees a visitor they don’t want to face. The parent darts into the house rushes you to pretend to play by the front door and tells you to inform the visitor that Mum isn’t home. This is because she doesn’t have time to visit, or doesn’t want to visit, or doesn’t have the rent money, or a thousand other reasons.
The visitor knocks on the door and I pretend to be pleasantly surprised to see her. Lie number one. She greets me and asks if Mum is home. I say, straight faced, that she left not too long ago for a women’s meeting at the church. Lie number two – I get extra points from Mum if I come up with a good story about where she went. I’m doing great. They will sing my praises for being a smart child!
“Oh,” says the visitor, “what time will she be back?”
Well, six year old Hannah is only so good at this and she turns towards the closed bedroom door, raises her voice and yells, “Mum, what time will you be back?”
I realize instantly but too late nonetheless that I just blew it. I’ll likely never make that particular mistake again. Next time – and there will be a next time – I’ll remember to make up a detail about that in advance. Needless to say, numerous such experiences day in and day out reinforce lying in blatant and subtle ways.
I must admit that if the culture didn’t train me to lie, I’d probably come up with lies anyway. It’s just the way of the heart to protect itself and to “protect” others. Because we know that, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy,” Pr. 12:22, here are some principles for the lying heart to abide by:
1. Think long-term. “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment,” v. 19. It has been said that if you’re going to be a liar, you’d better have a good memory. I say tell the truth and you won’t have to try and remember so much. People quickly smell a rat when fed a lie or two but trust a person who owns up consistently. In the long run, the temporary success of the lie feeds the blight to your character. It’s not worth it.
2. Own up and expose lies. The Lord ALWAYS exposes a lie. Because he is the truth and the light, and he calls us to be children of the light, he gives us opportunity to expose lies and if we don’t, he will do it for us. We may appear to get away with lies for a while, but they will most certainly come to light. Better to zahar (shine a light) on them than to have someone else do so.
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them,” Eph. 5:6-11.
3. Do a heart check. “Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy,” v. 20. If there is a lie, evil is afoot. That includes ‘little white lies.’ When tempted to lie – and we well know when we are – do a quick heart check and root out the evil that seeks to trip you up in that moment. Are you being tempted to steal? To cover-up? To be unfaithful? To appear better than you are by hiding a deep-rooted fault such as tardiness?
You will soon learn you have a common thread of triggers. For example, when I’m running late to an engagement, I automatically come up with some story that puts the blame on something or someone other than me. Why? I do not want to be seen as disorganized, or forgetful. I want to be viewed as thoughtful and honoring of people and their time (but not so much that I actually leave 15 minutes earlier than I think I should.) Upon examining this, I see pride and people-pleasing as issues in my life. I have to wrestle with myself to own and work against tardiness and its associated lies, because it is a symptom of some pretty sick heart-excrement.
4. Don’t allow lying to pay off in your life. A human being’s worst fears are death and pain (emotional and physical.) We tell lies to ward off emotional pain for ourselves or someone else. We get a dopamine and somewhat of an adrenaline rush when we get away with a lie. We also temporarily avoid trouble. That’s why it’s so easy to do.
Honesty is a hard skill to master and only practice will help us to master it.
– Be mindful about this matter in your life and pray about it regularly
– Practice saying, “I messed up, …” and explain what you did or what you could have done differently. The associated embarrassment or shame from confessing the lie will thoroughly renew your brain pathways and lead you down the down of eradicating automatically lying.
– Ask someone to keep you accountable.
– Avoid situations that tempt you to lie. In the example I shared above, leaving the house 15 minutes earlier than I think I should sets me up for success in this matter.
– Prepare in advance and practice telling the truth the next time.
5. Shut your mouth. “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly,” v. 22. Our words and actions lie but most lies are verbal. If we can keep our mouths shut, that eradicates a majority of the lies. Let your words be few. “In the multitude of words there is no absence of sin, and he that controls his lips is wise,” Pr. 10:19.
There are times when it is fitting to lie but these are a rare exception. Scripture shares a few and we can develop that theme another time. In my line of work, we have what’s called a “therapeutic fib.” If a demented patient in distress says she is on a train and doesn’t know what stop to get off at, you do not tell her the truth that she isn’t on a train. That would confuse her further and increase her anxiety. We could argue about for an hour.
My job is to enter her reality, not to try and pull her into mine, which she is no longer capable of doing. Because “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongueof the wise brings healing,” v. 18, I can reassure her that I know where she needs to get off and that she has a long way to go. I can tell her I’d love to sit with her till then, or that she can fall back asleep and I’ll come wake her up when it’s time to get off. That five-minute conversation would result in peace for both of us. “Anxietyweighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up,” v. 25.
Honesty is a way of righteousness. “In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality,” v. 28. Don’t be a damned liar!
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