I love to lie… is that a lie? I don’t know… or do I? Is that a lie? Oh man, this is confusing… or is it? The truth is lying is a necessary part of healthy communication. (reader) “Okay, this guy must be lying now.” Nope, I’m being serious. Yes, I understand that “truth” is a very important foundation for trust and security in relationships as demonstrated by the confusing opening: (confused person) “What do I believe?” but at the same time, lies are great… when used appropriately. The other day I was at the US border crossing coming back into Canada and the border guard noticed the sign on my car: “What does ‘Learning to love dumb people’ mean?” When I told him it’s about being more patient and kind to ourselves and those around us, he sighed and said, “Yeah, I know about patience. My job means everyone I meet lies to me.” I would’ve felt sympathy for him except he had just made me wait twenty minutes at the border because he took his sweet time with every car before me, and I was really annoyed. That being said, I had never thought about this before, but is everyone really lying to him or are they “playing the game”? For the record, I didn’t lie to him… the person with me did, but I was honest, so I’m clearly a better a person… and yes, that last part is a lie. The person with me is a better person than me.
When I was a youth pastor, I remember being angry at people when they were honest: (me) “Everything good here?” (wanting-to-be-a-responsible person) “No, we have a problem.” (me) “Ah crap… now I have to deal with it. Couldn’t you have lied?” The question I asked falls in the category of, “Please tell me what I want to hear.” This is the same category of a woman who asks: “Does this make me look fat?” “Is she prettier than me?” or “Am I as attractive as I was when we first met?” If a woman is asking these questions, the true answers are obvious, and clearly not favourable: (Question) “Does this make me look fat?” (Truth) “Yes, because you are just like I am.” (Question) “Is she prettier than me?” (Truth) “Yes, she’s a model and spends all her time focusing on her looks because she’s vain and shallow.” (Question) “Am I as attractive as I was when we first met?” (Truth) “Not a chance. You were in your prime when we met and now you’re twenty years older. Unless I had a thing for older women, the only way you’d be as attractive now is if you were doing something seriously wrong when you were younger and somehow fixed that.” When a woman asks these questions, she doesn’t want an honest answer. She wants the guy to affirm her and help her feel loved, which means he’s essentially supposed to say a lie.
It could be argued the guy is not lying because he’s seeing past the surface question and answering the real question, which is likely, “Do you still want to be with me?” “Am I still attractive to you?” or “Do you still love me?” These are likely the questions the woman really wants to ask, but either way, there is some hint of deception in the question and/or the answer, but it’s all done in love, which makes it okay.
Everyone lies out of love… or they’re a jerk. When I work with wedding couples I ask the question: “What one word best describes you?” and two guys have said their word is a-hole. They say this because they are straight up; they call a spade a spade. They claimed they were honest. I claim that they’re jerks. Sometimes we can be too honest. For instance, people can say they failed or that it’s a learning opportunity. People can call me weird… or inappropriate… or whacked, or they can call me unique. There is a nicer way of being honest. If I asked my friends if my house is small, they’re supposed to say, “It’s cozy.” Both are true, but one is speaking out of love or, “playing the game”.
The three main reasons people lie is out of love (aka “playing the game”), to manipulate, and out of fear/embarrassment. This means that lying is not so black and white as it is a mix of black, white, and grey depending on the intention. Christians often say lying is a sin because of the Ten Commandments, but the rule is: “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.” (Exo 20:16a) Speaking falsely about your neighbor is slanderous and connected to injustice and judging others, which is the opposite of love. It’s not saying all lies are sin. This means if someone asks, “How are you?” and you say “Fine,” when you’re not, this is not necessarily a sin. When people ask this, it’s simply a way to say hi. Depending on the situation, sometimes it’s inappropriate to be honest. If you’re bottling up your feelings causing yourself harm than this is a problem. Similarly, if your child asks, “Is my drawing good?” and they spent two minutes on it so it’s clearly terrible, you can say “I love it,” and it’s not a sin. You’re lying out of love in order to affirm them. If a child says you’re the best mom/dad in the world and you aren’t even a contender for the top 25%, you should correct them: (dumb parent) “Actually, the best parent is impossible to measure, so that statement is technically a lie and therefore a sin separating you from God.” If the child is saying you’re the best parent to manipulate you, that’s a different story, but we need to separate lying out of love versus lying out of manipulation and fear. Jesus says, “[satan] has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44b) I interpret this as satan lies to manipulate and screw us over. He’s not lying out of love, so he’d be like, “Yeah, I love that outfit; you should so wear that to school. No one will make fun of you,” whereas a loving parent will say, “Yeah, that’s a fun outfit, but it’s not appropriate for school.” If we have to lie it should never be something that is used to manipulate or sets someone up for failure.
The important truth to be aware of is that if anyone is lying there is likely a deeper need that should be addressed in order to prevent the need for lying in the future. For instance, if the woman is so insecure that she needs to be affirmed that she is the prettiest, she has a need that should be addressed. If we lie to people in order to avoid conflict, something is likely wrong whether we’ve done something dumb, we’re hiding, or there is something wrong in the relationship. Lying is great when it is done appropriately and leads to a healthier relationship. It should be used sparingly and only for good and never for evil… and definitely be careful about lying to yourself; that’s a dangerous ground.
This week may you better understand what it really means to love whether you agree with me or not because love is, above all, what is really important.
Rev. Chad David, www.ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people