"My name is Cec, and I'm a liar." That's how it would sound if I started something called Liars Anonymous (LA). The customary greeting of those in twelve-step programs seems to be saying, "That's how I used to be. The tendency is still there, but I don't do it anymore."
I wish I could join LA.
I can't because I'm still a practicing liar. Not that I go around telling the unbelievable tales that everyone snickers at and says, "Oh, yeah, right." Frankly, I'm a bit more subtle about my lying.
Like the prophet Isaiah, I am a man of unclean lips and I live in a land of unclean people. I live in a world where it's all right to lie if you don't get caught.
A few months ago, I watched part of a 1940 Bob Hope film called Nothing but the Truth Hope played an inveterate liar who made a bet he could tell the truth for twenty-four hours. He won the bet-barely.
I'm not sure I'd win. I'm not sure many of us would, because we've learned to lie in hundreds of ways and those habits are part of our lives. Sometimes it's as simple as exaggeration. How many people have we heard who had surgery for gallstones and reported the surgeon said, "It's the largest gallstone I've ever seen." Somebody lied, unless the stones get bigger every operation.
I read recently that American men often report their height as one or two inches taller than they actually are. Celebrities such as Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone are officially listed as six feet tall, but people who have seen them say they don't quite measure up. I've heard that most women over thirty-five tend to subtract a couple of years off their age to appear younger. And overweight people tend to subtract ten pounds when they confess their weight.
Or we lie because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings. I recall once when a wanna-be writer came to our editing group, presented an article, and we edited it. I thought it was one of the worst pieces of writing I'd seen in years, but I couldn't say that. "You need a lot of work," I said. That was true, uh, well, as far as it went.
Or we lie to save face. Or maybe it becomes an unconscious matter of feeling a little more important than we really are. Or we lie by not speaking up to defend what we believe in.
What a contrast to the words of Jesus. "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6). Jesus didn't merely speak the truth, he embodied truth. Any human can teach the truth; only Jesus lived it.
Perhaps this sounds like a small thing to get excited about. We don't go out and deliberately decide to lie. It just slips up on us, usually to make us look better in some way.
Yet Jesus wouldn't lie for any reason. He might wisely choose to remain silent, but he had nothing to hide and nothing to protect. Maybe that's the big difference: We still have things to protect. We don't like revealing our vastly imperfect selves, so we lie to ourselves (and to others who'll listen).
Yet I want to reflect Jesus the Truth in my daily life. It's not easy for me. And I'm not sure how far to carry it. Suppose I walk by dick's house. He's my neighbor and a nice man. If he's outside, I often pause to chat. "How are you?" is invariably his first question.
"Fine," I say without variation.
Aside from the custom of giving that answer, what if the truth is it's been one exceptionally bad day, and my emotions flow four feet below sea level? Do I openly say, "Lousy"?
Or worse, when sales people call, they first ask the question, "How are you today, Mr. Murphey?" and don't say anything more until I reply, "Fine," or something else as meaningless.
Do I start telling them the truth about my physical, emotional, and spiritual condition? Probably not, and I wouldn't want to say, "You're not really interested, so tell me why you called." It might be a truthful answer, but not very kind.
Okay, so lying is part of our culture. And once we learn to lie in small ways, we soon become proficient at non-truth telling. I don't like it, and I don't want to accept it as a permanent factor in my life.
In recent weeks, I've cried out, "Make me a truth seeker." Sometimes I put it this way: "Help me to put away lying, which includes exaggeration."
This is a topic God and I discuss a lot. Mostly, I cry out for help and God listens. My desire is that it can be said of me, "Every word Cec speaks is true." Will I ever attain that? If Liars Anonymous will accept me, with the help of God and others who face the same problem, perhaps I can begin to celebrate months, even years, of verbal veracity.
While I struggled with this issue, I had one of those delightful moments of insight. Another neighbor, Frank, commented on his yard. "My goal isn't to have a perfect yard this year," he said. "My goal is to make it a little better every year."
That's it! I thought. Lying by silence, by exaggeration, by shading the truth, and all of the other forms-I can't destroy them with a single blow. But I can work on them.
I think I could stand up in LA and say, "I'm Cec, and I'm a liar, but the Truth is with me. Together we're making progress. I value truth-telling and rejoice in winning over temptation. I'm not perfect this year, but with the God of Truth helping me, I'm making progress."
Show me Your ways, O LORD, teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your Truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day. --PSALMS 25:4-5, NKJV
Teach me thy way; I will walk in thy truth. --PSALMS 86:11
I have walked in thy truth. --PSALMS 26:3
I have chosen the way of truth. --PSALMS 119:30
God of All Truth,
put within me a desire for truth, honesty, and integrity.
Guard my lips from speaking guile
or doing anything that negatively reflects on you. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.