“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” (Walter Scott)
Sometimes it can get really discouraging when you are continually faced with people who are not honest. We’ve all been there, those times when you are either lied about or lied to. Sometimes it is intentional, and sometimes it happens out of exaggeration without thinking. Either way, it reveals something about a person’s true character when it happens, and if it is us doing the lying, it reveals the same about our character as well. Recently, I have been lied about and lied to. When it occurred, I was both discouraged and disturbed by it. Although I forgave the people involved and tried to understand why it might have happened, I lost a great amount of (if not all) respect for them. I was blessed to have had the lie revealed in these situations, but that doesn’t happen every time. Sometimes we just have to continue walking in integrity and trust that God will take care of the situation(s) in His time and in His way, even if we never know it happens or get to see the result.
The battle against dishonesty is often difficult because lies are based in so many other negative things. There are countless reasons why a person would lie about (or to) someone else. Here are just a few examples:
- Guilt or Fear – Being confronted with something done wrong can entice someone to lie in order to avoid the consequences of their actions. (“The dog ate my homework,” or if you’ve ever watched a real-life cops show, “These aren’t my pants.”)
- Embarrassment – Making a mistake can often make a person feel embarrassed. Rather than just owning up to it, someone might lie to cover it up. (“No one told me I needed to do that,” or “My phone must not have been working.”)
- Insecurity – When someone feels insecure, it isn’t uncommon for them to lie or exaggerate about a situation in order to make themselves look better, or sometimes to even establish themselves as a victim. (“I have a degree in _____,” or “They never listen to me.”)
- Anger – When anger flairs, for whatever reason, someone may exaggerate the circumstance in order to gain the support of others, or a person may outright lie in order to get back at someone who hurt them. (This one certainly speaks for itself.)
- A desire for power, status or money – Sometimes people are so consumed with getting power and status (which usually comes with money), they will step on anyone in their way to attain it. They will say whatever they have to in order to gain favor with those currently with power and status, even if it is totally untrue. This includes taking credit for things they haven’t done or not taking blame for things they have messed up. (“You know, Sally thinks you aren’t very smart,” “That was my idea,” or “I told them not to do it that way.”)
My point in the few examples above is that a lie isn’t just about the untruth being told; it is rooted in much deeper issues within a person or situation. In other words, telling the truth is simple; Lies are complicated.
The only way to battle dishonesty is with truth. If we try to battle against lies with reason or even anger, we will probably just end up frustrated with the results. That’s because lies breed other lies! When someone lies to or about you, and they are confronted, don’t be surprised if another lie is told to try and get out of the uncomfortable or awkward position in which that person finds themselves. Depending on the reason for the untruth in the first place (as mentioned above), that same force will often drive a second or third lie in order to cover it up or keep the charade going. The ONLY way to face dishonesty is to shine the light of truth on it. But before you start cheering, “Yeah, expose it,” we probably need to consider something else.
Our natural response to a lie is to be hurt, upset, sad, or even downright angry! We feel (and are) justified in those emotions, but if we react out of those emotions, we are in danger of committing our own exaggerations and untruths. It is just as easy for us to fall prey to our emotions or insecurities and make decisions or say things that might be inappropriate because we feel so wronged. We want to expose the person and their untruth to everyone else. We want to clear our name or tarnish theirs, but before we address an untruth or misrepresentation, we need to step back, take a breath and ask God for wisdom and guidance in how to proceed.
Over the course of my life, there are times I have reacted with an instant indignation toward the person(s) involved in an untruth. I barely take a breath before I react and let words came out of my mouth! However, in other times, I didn’t react or say a word in that moment. Instead, I walked away and prayed about what to do. Those prayers were answered sometimes by delaying the ability to address it for a few days, but it has always been much more profitable to wait on God’s timing than to insist on my own. By stepping back and asking Him for wisdom and guidance, it removed the anger and frustration, but it did not remove the hurt and disappointment associated with the situation. Our relationship with God works that way sometimes; our tempers may calm, but the pain often remains. Anger is fleeting, but wounds take time to heal.
As people of faith, we know the guidelines of forgiveness. We know we are to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us (Matt 5:43-48). On one occasion, Peter asked Jesus how often he needed to forgive, thinking seven times was plenty. Jesus responded with “seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22). That doesn’t mean 490 times and then stop, but rather that forgiveness is a process. We are human, and forgiveness does NOT come easy to us. It isn’t usually enough to forgive someone just once and walk away. In our hearts, we tend to hold grudges and hang onto hurt, pain, and betrayal. We may not outwardly give someone a cold shoulder or treat them poorly, but inside we often have to forgive them every time the hurt, anger or pain rears its head again. We need to forgive so that we can let it go. We need to sometimes forgive over and over internally until we reach that point. We read in Matt 18:23-35 about a servant who was forgiven of a huge debt he had no way of ever paying back. He begged for mercy and forgiveness and his master granted it and forgave his debt – lavishly! Almost immediately, that same guy went out to someone who owed him a very small amount and when that man begged for mercy and forgiveness, the guy not only didn’t forgive the debt, but he threw the man into prison. When the master found out, he went back to the servant and scolded him for his lack of mercy. As a result, he also rescinded the debt forgiveness and put him into prison himself. Jesus follows this parable with the statement, “This is how the Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” OUCH!
Before moving onto another thought, let me add what I believe is the most revealing aspect of how we are to forgive. We often read or repeat what we call “the Lord’s prayer,” but the first thing we need to understand is that Matt 6 is not Jesus’ prayer for us, but rather Jesus giving us the way in which we should pray. Most of us have said the words, “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt 6:12). “As” does not mean “while;” it means “the same way.” We say those words, but do we really understand what we are asking God in that prayer? We are saying to God, Himself, “Forgive me the same way and in the same manner that I forgive others.” Uh oh, that changes things doesn’t it? The truth is we really love God’s mercy and the way He forgives us time and time again. We love that He lavishly forgives us, but we don’t want Him to do that for the people who have wronged or hurt us. We want Him to act out of justice, not mercy, in those cases, but Jesus tells us we should be asking God to forgive us in the exact same way we forgive others. Now you can start to see why the illustration of “seventy times seven” is so important. Yes, we are human. Yes, we struggle to forgive and let it go, but when we find ourselves in that spot, we need to remember that having to internally forgive over and over again is not unusual. Jesus knows it is a process and that we may have to walk through these truths again until we can forgive on the inside, no matter how many times that takes us.
As I said earlier, “lies are complicated,” and spending our energy trying to figure out why someone is dishonest will rarely bring an answer we find satisfying. Lies or misrepresentations can quickly become a web in which most of us do not want to be stuck – no matter if you are the spider or the fly. Instead of focusing so much on the dishonesty we come across almost every day, wouldn’t it be better to focus on the truth? Turning from anger to forgiveness frees us to live abundantly. And if, perchance, you are struggling with a “justice gene” of your own, maybe it’s time to go back to that model prayer Jesus gave us. Maybe it’s time to remember how lavishly we have been forgiven, with no strings attached, by the One who has every right to demand justice, but instead, chooses love.
“Forgive me of my own wrongdoing in the same way I forgive those who have hurt, wronged, or mistreated me.” Be careful what you ask for from the One who sees and knows everything, but rejoice in the fact He will give you whatever you need in order to love and forgive as He does. The choice is totally up to you.