I lied to a friend of mine this week. He asked how I was doing and rather than talk about some heartache and struggle, I answered with the favorite Christian f-word, “Fine.” It’s a tricky question, isn’t it? My son told me that he recently asked a similar question to someone at the dinner table who proceeded to go on and on in depth about some family problems. Graham finally said, “I was just trying to be polite. I didn’t really want to know all that.” The woman starting weeping uncontrollably in the middle of the restaurant, until the waiter had to bring her a box of Kleenex. We do this strange dance of wanting to know and be known and yet wanting to keep things a bit superficial.
So is it a big deal that I lied to my friend? I can tell you some things I observed after my “little white lie.” I pulled away a little from all my relationships. I may have gotten together with a few friends, but the conversation stayed on the surface and no Kleenex were required. I walked out of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting within five minutes of its beginning — I felt irritable, restless, discontent, and didn’t want to hear anyone talk about “working a program” or feeling happy, joyous, or free. I swore at my new roommates for forgetting to take out their trash (yes, they are still with me and I am still struggling to give up control). That night they each came to me and kindly asked, “Sharon do you want us to leave?” Could all of this resulted from that one oh-so-tiny lie?
I started thinking about a story my counselor/sponsor/friend, Tino, told about his early days of recovery. They were pretty stretched financially, and one night Tino had to scrounge together loose change so that they would have enough to buy one bottle of formula for their baby girl. When checking out at the grocery store the clerk made a mistake and placed an entire case of formula in Tino’s shopping cart. Tino left with all the rationalizations any of us would make — maybe this was a gift from God; the store wouldn’t miss 1 case of formula; this was not for him – but for the baby; grocery prices are ridiculously high anyway; and probably some other justification that had to do with the failure of the government! All of us who listened to Tino’s predicament agreed that it made sense to keep the extra formula. But Tino had been working the 12 steps and started thinking about Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” He told us that he believes the word “exact” is important because it doesn’t leave any wiggle-room (we addicts are way too good at wiggling). He explained that if he passed the extra formula off as no big deal, then it would be easier to decide that having one drink is no big deal.
Tino’s humble story reminded me that a little white lie is a matter of life and death for this alcoholic.
And then I started thinking about a sermon my pastor preached years ago. The title of the sermon was “Why Jesus Rose from the Dead” or “What’s the Big Deal About Sin?” (you can listen at www.sanctuarydowntown.org). My daughter was 18 years old at the time. She had been in church on Sunday mornings for most of her life. She memorized enough Bible verses to win a prize at Vacation Bible School, and she was chosen the Most Outstanding Christian Leader at her middle school. When she heard the subtitle of the sermon (What’s the Big Deal About Sin?”), she leaned over and whispered to me, “Mom, I have wondered about that all my life!” It seems that we can hear an old, old story over and over again and forget what it means — what it really means.
I immediately thought of all the times my children had asked me to explain the big deal about telling a little lie, cheating on their homework, drinking a beer, or shoplifting from 7-11. When my son was a junior in high school he got caught smoking a little pot and he really wanted to know, “Mom, what is the big deal?” I wrote my answer to his question in Mom, Everyone Else Does!, but after this week I need to remind myself of that answer.
A little white lie can kill faith. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). We can lose faith in the absence of visible evidence and then we forget who God is which causes us to forget who we are. I lost faith in myself and my friend and told a little white lie because I didn’t believe my friend and/or I could handle the messiness in my life.
A little white lie distorts hope. In our culture we believe that hope grows out of something that is available, predictable, and working! When my friend asked how I was, I was disapponted, afraid, and exhausted and I didn’t see how there could be any hope in telling the truth about that. I believed the lie that hope arises from bright, shiny packages. I forgot that hope actually abides in the ruins of our lives as we are compelled to cry out, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the hope of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26). My little white lie distorted hope and kept my friend and I from finding Him in the ruins.
Finally, a little white lie can limit Love. I didn’t tell my friend the truth because I’d already decided he was sick of hearing about my problems and that I was tried of looking like a vulnerable, needy, insecure woman. And now I’d have to tell him I’m a vulnerable, needy, insecure liar! Julian of Norwich wrote that, “To God, sin is no shame — only glory!” Glory? Sin becomes the place to experience — heart and soul — what God does when we sin. He pours out His love. He is absolute love, and the really big deal about sin is that when we fail and hide all those failures in our hearts we crowd Him out, and so we miss Love. C.S. Lewis describes the limits we place on Love when we allow unconfessed sin to take up residence in our hearts, “Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison, and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” My little white lie limited my capacity to give and receive love.
I called my friend and confessed my little white lie and shared some about what was going on in my life, and he simply said, “Thanks, Sharon. I really do want to know how you’re doing.” And as is always true with sincere confession, my heart softened and faith, hope, and love began to fill in the cracks that had started to form with one little white lie.
My pastor concluded that sermon years ago with the best answer about why sin is a big deal. He got in a lot of trouble for this answer. I’m really grateful for his courage to preach the Love of Jesus because I start to forget why things matter — not just sin, but Jesus. I pray that when I sin — even just a “little” — that the Enemy of love will not win by persuading me that it’s no big deal. I pray that I will know — heart and soul — that sin matters because it keeps me from feeling at home with the Father.
“When we . . . lust, lie, retaliate, we can’t believe in God’s love. For God is love. And not believing in God’s love is not just a sin, but the sin. So I’m convinced that your deepest problem is not the cigarettes you smoke or the alcohol you drink in secret. It’s not the slander you speak and the gossip you cherish. It’s not the pornography you pleasure yourself with when no one’s looking. It’s not the baby you aborted; it’s not that you betrayed your brother, cheated on your bride and lied about the whole things . . . . Your deepest problem is that somewhere deep down inside you believe Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead just to kick your ass, when in fact, He rose from the dead so you would believe all is forgiven. It is finished. Justice is accomplished. And the Father is pleading, “Come home, come home, come home!”
One little white lie can kill faith, distort hope, and limit love.
One little white lie can lead us Home.
“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it — we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” 1 John 3:1