Telling the Truth

by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Broken Robins Egg

When I finally listen to the two messages—left on my phone yesterday from a number I don’t recognize—I realize I’ve blown it. It’s our new homeschool co-op director, she’s trying to get in touch with one of the other co-op moms, and it’s rather urgent.

I do this often, this waiting hours and even, as in this case, days, to check voice mail or email or text messages. Why have a smart phone if you’re just going to be an idiot about it? But I do, and I am.

I call her back right away, apologize for not calling her sooner. And then I tell her my toddler twins had hidden my phone. Even as the words are coming out of my mouth, I know I’m lying, but instead of shutting up, I keep talking, keep throwing my twins under the bus of my own irresponsibility.

I’ve done this sort of thing all my life. My biggest fear growing up was getting in trouble, followed closely by being disliked. I think I was born with the ability to read the approval or disapproval of others and modify my behavior accordingly. It’s just a small step from this kind of self-monitoring to implying an untruth, white lies, misleading statements, and outright falsehoods.

It’s been many years since I became aware of how frequently and how easily I lie. It’s like breathing: I do it without thinking about it. And also like breathing, it seems crucial to living. I cannot bear to have people alive in the world thinking ill of me.

But it’s been one of my (many) growing edges to learn to tell the truth. I’ve gotten better about speaking true words in these years since I realized my tendency to shade or even falsify the truth. The distance between the lie and my realization of the lie has shrunk considerably, from never to a day to an hour to, as today, in the act of lying.

But I’ve already lied, and to stop and apologize would mean to admit to this woman I don’t even know that I, well, that I’m lying. So I keep talking, keep digging this little pit of a lie deeper.

When I hang up the phone, I remember some words of Dallas Willard that I read back in May, words that struck me as God’s word to me in that moment:

In the hurly-burly of life I may not be able to speak the truth always. But, as a discipline, I can perhaps make myself return to those to whom I have lied and tell them I misled or deceived them. This, in turn, will marvelously enhance my ability to speak the truth on other occasions. (The Spirit of the Disciplines)

And I remember my promise to myself and to God that I would embrace this particular discipline, this humbling of myself when I lie. I want to speak plainly, to tell all the truth, to be trustworthy. I want to be the person in Psalm 24 who shall ascend the hill of the Lord.

But lying is a habit with me, and so I must have some sort of discipline to counteract that habit, something painful enough that it will make the habit unpalatable. Willard’s suggested discipline is just that something.

This thing works, let me tell you: since embracing it, I’ve only had to tell four people that I lied to them—five, if you count the confession I have yet to make to my co-op director.

If you’re wondering right now why I’m making a big deal over this, you’re not the first person to do so. After all, the reasoning seems to go, the tenth commandment isn’t do not lie; it’s do not bear false witness against your neighbor. Do my twins count as my neighbor? Because I sure bore false witness against them.

Another tack to excuse this kind of “little” lie is to say it’s not hurting my director, so no harm done. Maybe no harm to her, but it’s harming me. Every time I lie, it makes it that much easier to lie again. And yes, this seemingly harmless lie about my phone is still a lie. It’s still a way I’m twisting truth to make myself look better. It’s the opposite of humility, which is transparency, a truthfulness about who I am and what I’ve done (or not done).

Lies destroy trust, they break love, and they devastate community. They separate us from one another, from God, and even from our true selves. This is why the Levitical law commands baldly, “You shall not lie to one another” (Lev 19:11), why St. Paul writes that we are to “put away falsehood” and “speak the truth to [our] neighbors” (Eph 4:25).  We are members of one another, Paul continues, and the body of Christ, the church, can only build itself up in love when each part is working properly, is speaking the truth in love, is rooted and grounded in Christ who is, after all, the Truth.

And so, that night, when I go to the co-op, I pull the director aside and confess that I lied to her on the phone. I tell her what really happened—that I didn’t recognize her number and so didn’t check my messages—and I apologize. She doesn’t brush it off as no big deal, for which I am grateful. Instead, she grins at me and gives me a hug and tells me I don’t ever need to worry about her thinking badly of me, even if I never return her phone calls.

The irony of this response is not lost on me. Telling her the truth, even after lying, actually built her trust in me. She now knows that she can trust me to speak the truth, if not in the moment, at least after the fact. It’s not exactly who I want to be, but it’s a step in the right direction.

 

If you struggle with shading the truth or using your words to manipulate others’ opinion of you, may I humbly invite you to join me in my quest to become a person who speaks the truth? Why not embrace Dallas Willard’s suggested discipline and see how far it takes you in truth-telling?
 
 
 
Photo by Chris Campbell, Creative Commons via Flickr.

16 Responses to “Telling the Truth”

  1. Diana July 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Oh, Kimberlee – thank you for this transparency, for admitting you do what so many of us do from time to tome. And for bringing home that last interesting point. . . that admitting this particular frailty can actually help us build trust with others. Really fine storytelling here. Thank you.

  2. Kimberlee Conway Ireton July 5, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    Thank you, Diana, particularly for those words “fine storytelling”. :) This post was a leap for me. But I have to remind myself that I am not the only person who struggles with the things I struggle with, and writing about them can be a way to let God redeem them. The irony of building trust when you admit you’ve broken trust is one that shocked me. It’s so unmerited. Pure grace.

    • Joan July 6, 2013 at 5:46 am #

      Thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one. The guilt can be awful sometimes. Your 2 biggest fears are the same as mine, as long as I can remember. I’ve gotten much better, but still catch myself. I was in 2 abusive marriages, and also had a controlling father. It became second nature to me to avoid getting in trouble, being put down, avoiding the silent treatment, or getting screamed at.

      The other day I accidentaly deleted a whole group of contacts at work. I had to tell my somewhat, sometimes overbearing director. Otherwise I would have to manually add each person, and it would have taken me forever. That thought did cross my mind though, just to avoid telling her. I emailed her to have her send me the list, even though her office is right outside my cubicle. She emailed me back and said she had done it several times. I froze and thought she meant that she had sent it to me several times. She came out of her office to help me, and was chuckling. She meant that she herself had done the same thing as me several times. I was sweating, but laughing, and so relieved.

      Your article made my day! And that’s the truth :)

      • Kimberlee Conway Ireton July 6, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

        Thanks, Joan! Lying is so tempting when we don’t want to risk getting slammed by someone who doesn’t handle human frailty well. I’m so glad your boss responded with such grace.

  3. Geno July 6, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Kimberlee,

    This story really touched my heart and ministered to me. Thanks.

    The Lord has been dealing with me along similar lines.

    I made a post on my site recently, in which I say, “I have seen… in many different situations and circumstances… that I respond and react… inwardly, outwardly or both… in ways that are very unlike how Jesus would respond and react.”

    If anyone would like to check out the post, it’s at http://whatischurch.org/the-deceitfulness-of-sin/

    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton July 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

      Geno, I read your post, and that is exactly what I’m talking about–all those habitual little “personality quirks” that, at root, are separating us from God because they keep us from becoming more like Jesus. Whatever quirks of personality He had, I’m sure they didn’t involve deceiving people to make Himself look more organized (or whatever) than He really was. Thanks for being willing to take a good, hard look at yourself–and then share some of the not-so-pleasant things you see. We’re all in this mess, stumbling toward Jesus, and it’s good to know others are stumbling over the same things we are; it makes it possible for us to let grace wash over us, get up, and keep going.

      • Geno July 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

        Kimberlee,

        The worst part of all this, in my view, is that HE has made the way for His people to be as He is, and do as He does, in a literal, actual sense.

        It’s called putting OFF the old man… Adam… and putting on the new man… Jesus. This is simply spiritual reality, but we tend to not take hold of that too well.

        He was the first born of a new race, and in Him, we can be a genuine part of the new race, if we’d stop making excuses and take His word seriously.

        • Kimberlee Conway Ireton July 6, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

          Hm…sounds like you’ve been reading Dallas Willard, too :) It shakes you by the scruff of the neck, doesn’t it? God’s grace upon us both as we seek to put on Christ.

          • Geno July 6, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

            Hmmmm… Dallas Willard ;-) ?

            Amen… God’s grace be upon us all.

  4. AJ July 6, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    Thank you so much for this post, Kimberlee!

    This hasn’t been an area of struggle for me, for the most part. As a teenager, I vowed to stop lying because I knew my parents were up in heaven and so I was ashamed for them to see all my little untruths. They became my secondary consciences. And then later, I went to work in an industry that believes in truth as its highest calling.

    But in the past few months or so, I vowed to myself that I would get more sleep. It is my gift to myself and my family. But I now work in a new corporate industry where the hours are long and needing to rest is not respected. Also, it is not respected to leave work early to spend time with my child. Bodily rhythms and needs are not respected. And so within the past two months, I have said that I was working when I was really sleeping. Or, I say I “have an appointment” when really that appointment was with my child or my own pillow.

    I’m afraid people will think I am lazy for wanting at least eight hours of sleep, or for napping after 12 hours of work. Honesty means risking my professional persona.

    Thank you for this reminder. I can simply say, “I’m leaving early for personal reasons.” I don’t need to say what exactly those reasons are!

    Another reason I value this post is because I just discovered within the past hour that someone else has lied to me. It feels like such a huge betrayal and I am angry and hurt and not sure how to proceed. The subject of the lie isn’t really THAT big of a deal. It’s the lie itself that poisons the relationship. I think, “Why lie? And why lie about THAT? I thought you were better than that. I thought WE were better than that.”

    Thank you for your bravery and honesty in this post.

    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton July 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

      AJ, Kudos to you for getting more rest. It’s not just a physical discipline. In our culture it’s a spiritual one as well. I’m sorry your colleagues are so driven that it makes you feel like you have to prevaricate in order to get the rest you need. Know I’m praying for you as you juggle work, motherhood, and soul care.

  5. AJ July 6, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    Oh and PS: I have told people before: “I’m just now getting your voicemail. I believe that voicemail is outdated technology, sorry. It died in 2008.”

    That’s the East Coaster in me. Honest to a fault.

    Link:
    http://techcrunch.com/2008/07/05/think-before-you-voicemail/

  6. Kris July 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Kimberlee, your honesty in sharing this story is refreshing and humbling. Thanks for this, my friend. It’s always good to read your words!

  7. Elizabeth July 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    You know how sometimes, if we listen, God gives us exactly what we need to hear? That’s what this post was, for me, today. I am joining you in the quest to speak the truth. (Also, I have totally used the “my two-year-old toddlers hid my phone” excuse.) Thanks for your honesty, and for your challenge.

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