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  • Writer's pictureSara

On Telling the Truth

“Do not lie” – God

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25 NIV)

The other day, one of my former students was regaling the church youth group with stories from her rebellious teen years. She and her parents had a challenging relationship to put it mildly. “But one thing I never did,” she told the girls, “was lie when I said I was going to the church or hanging out with Sara.”

I remember having that conversation with her five years ago. “You don’t ever need to feel obligated to tell me anything, but whatever you do tell me, don’t lie to me. I will defend you. I will trust you. I will have your back. As long as you never lie.”  She and her parents have told me some crazy things, and there have been plenty of other things that I’ve never asked her. And as far as I can tell, she has never lied to me.

Telling the truth is hard. It often means revealing parts of ourselves that we don’t want people to see. It also means confronting parts of them that they don’t want to see. It can be incredibly scary.

Quite a few years ago, I broke up with an emotionally abusive boyfriend and changed my phone number when he refused to accept the breakup. The situation was especially tricky because his family went to the church where I was the youth director and his sister was in the youth group. I told the church secretary that I didn’t want his family to have my cell phone number. She gave it to his mom anyway, telling her that I said I didn’t want her to have it. Of course, that escalated, and I was called into a meeting with the woman and the senior pastor where I was confronted with my “unchristian” behavior. Feeling backed into a corner, I lied. “I never said that,” I told them, knowing full well that I did.

In hindsight, I wish I had stood up for myself and explained the rationale, that he wasn’t to be trusted and would have gotten the number from his mom’s phone, that they could email or call my landline or contact me in other ways, that just because I work for a church doesn’t mean I should have to accept unsafe treatment by church members, that sometimes boundaries are necessary and healthy even for Christians. I was young. I was afraid. And so I lied.

But the truth can also be dangerous. So many times, I’ve pointed out blind spots in plans or leaders only to be chastised for being critical and not trusting their God-ordained authority. I’ve participated in the resulting lies as well. Several times after being asked to step down from a ministry or leave a church, I’ve written the letter reassuring the church that it was my choice, helping them save face, giving the congregation no reason to question authority. It’s the professional thing to do, a way to not burn bridges. But it’s still a lie.

It’s even worse when lies happen behind closed doors, making a place—even a church—unsafe. And if the lies continue, those few of us who can see the lies for what they are and call them out can be gaslighted, as though we are the ones misremembering the situation or causing the division. Then, once we’re thoroughly discredited, we can be easily pushed aside because the organization is “better” without us.

So why does God ask us to tell the truth? He’s got to know that this is one of the hardest commandments for ordinary individuals to follow. I’m not an expert, but I do have a few ideas.

First, it builds trust. Thinking back to the story I started with, I trust that young woman implicitly. I’m not saying she always makes the right decisions—none of us do all the time—but I know how she will respond even when she makes mistakes. And I don’t doubt for a moment that she will own up to them and learn and do better moving forward.

Which brings me to my second reason, it builds relationship. When I first met her as a high school student, my initial thought wasn’t, “This is the most trustworthy person I’ve ever met,” but over time, watching her persevere through so many difficulties and yet continue to be honest, express doubt, tell of her failures, and wrestle with her relationships, I have come to see her as someone I can deeply respect. Because she has always told the truth, not only do I trust her, but I feel that I authentically know her.

Third, it makes us better. A proverb reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 NIV). Truth allows us to speak into each other’s lives, pointing out blind spots as well as sin. It can hurt a ton to have someone else call out what is broken in me, but it brings accountability as I learn to live my life openly, granting permission to those who care for me to help me learn and grow and be better.

Finally, it demonstrates our trust in God. Because the reality is, speaking truth is still hard and scary and dangerous. Outside of trust and relationship and a real desire for the other’s good, we risk being misunderstood or maligned or even fired. And yet, God has said to tell the truth anyway. There is something prophetic about knowing the risk and the cost and trusting God with all of that.

It’s a lot. I don’t always love God’s commands, and this one is incredibly challenging to me. But I do trust God, and I want to be obedient. So, I will speak truth.

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