I was lying in bed a while ago sleepily reading my daily bits of Bible on my iPhone and, I suppose, looking more for inspiration than conviction, when something Bill Hybels said in one of his incredibly perceptive pieces stopped me in my tracks.
'The ninth commandment makes it clear: don't give false testimony. In other words, don't lie. So the only reasonable choice for an of us is to stop lying. Now. Completely. If we have even the slightest tendency to distort the truth - and who amongst us doesn't? ..... Enough. No more half-truths. No more exaggeration. No more verbal twisting of reality. No more lies!'
Ah. I'm not liking this. I read it through a few times, even pressed the button on the iPhone that puts a little bookmark in it so I can find it again, and then I got on with the day and didn't do anything about it.
Here's the thing; I don't feel as if I have a big problem with lying. I haven't! I'm not a liar. I don't habitually invent things, mislead people or practice acts of deceit. Generally speaking, if asked a question, I come up with an honest answer. I like to think that my yes is yes and my no is no. Or at least mostly. And there's the rub.
What about all those occasions where you don't want to hurt someone's feelings, so you skirt around the truth? What should you do then? What about the little white lies that seem so inconsequential but sort of smooth over those tricky situations? These are the occasions that I have in mind when I find myself using words and phrases like 'generally speaking' and 'mainly' with reference to my own truthfulness. But there isn't much you can do about those times, is there, Lord?
And then there's the story telling aspect of it. I suspect I am prone to exaggeration. Just a bit. If it makes a story funnier, more dramatic, more interesting, which of us isn't? It's very hard. And it's hard not to try to justify it. Or those times when you just sort of re-interpret something to make it what you want it to be - maybe more comfortable, or more in keeping with how you see things? I love words and it's usually easy to make them do what I want them to do; and sometimes things come out slightly differently from how they might have technically, actually been ... is that lying? Maybe it is.
What do politicians say - they are 'economical with the truth'? As if there's only so much truth to go round so cutting corners and skimping now and again is ok. Frugal, in fact. Virtuous, in some ways. You make things fit if it helps you make a point. Now when it comes to journalists and politicians I'm definitely critical of such manoevrings but I bristle when I read that Bill Hybels might think that I do the same thing. I'm not a liar.
I don't want to be a liar. I don't want people to think I'm a liar, and I don't want you to think I am. But it is unavoidably true that only you are the source of all Truth. Being a liar seems a sort of binary position if you think about it in those terms; you either are, or you're not. And since you are the only one who isn't, by virtue of the fact that you are God, and thus perfect while the rest of us fall short, then perhaps it's time to face up to the fact that I'm not perfectly honest, one hundred percent of the time, so that makes me in the other camp.
Feeling disgruntled about this. Feeling a bit reluctant and narky about it in the same way I felt when I started to realise that you wanted me to give up Facebook for Lent. I was lying in bed not properly woken up and feeling comfortably complacent and I don't want to be challenged about something like this. My reaction is a negative one - can you tell? I don't want to think about this, much less do anything about it because I don't particularly want to change anything. Not anything that will make me feel less comfortable, anyway. But look how you blessed me in my Lent efforts and look how I've been so sure that it was the right thing to do. Sigh.
That was a heavy sigh. A resigned one. I'm not grasping this new awareness with alacrity and exclaiming in eager anticipation of the next lesson you have for me. Hooray! Turns out I'm not as honest as I thought I was. Hmm. I've got to think some more about this. Be gentle, please. I don't like being criticised. Show me what you want me to do, Lord. What you want me to think about. Draw my attention to the bits of me that you want to change. Help me to think more about what I say so that I speak the truth.
I want to be worthy of people's trust. I want to be an honest person. I want it to be known that if I say something, then it's true. I've always assumed that this is the case with me but perhaps it's not. I don't want to be the one whose words are taken with a pinch of salt, or examined for alternative meanings or motivations. I want to be honest. Trustworthy. Even if everyone else in the world believes every word that comes out of my mouth without question, you will know if I bent the truth, or exaggerated, or played with words in order to mislead. I want to be worthy of you. I don't quite know how this will pan out in those delicate 'white-lie' situations that crop up so often, but I'm hoping that you'll show me how to get it right. And while I'm at it I realise that I need to say sorry that I let you down so frequently. Just another one of the ways, hey.
So, here's what Bill Hybels says I should say:
'From this day forward I purpose in my heart, with the help of God, to speak only the truth, always and in every situation, for the rest of my life.'
That sounds quite a claim. I feel as if I might be messing it up right now as I say this with doubt in my heart that it's possible, but I want to be better at this. I want to get it right. I have no doubt that getting this right will improve my relationship with you so I want to do it. I'm just going to need your help.
What a surprise.