In his book, The Good and Beautiful Life, James Bryan Smith includes a chapter called "How to Live Without Lying."
Most of us would skip it because it doesn't "apply." Most of us would be lying to ourselves.
He talks about a conversation at a party about the book The Scarlet Letter, which he had never read. His conversation partner continued to make statements about the book, each time asking James what he thought and each time the reply was, "Yes, I agree" as if he had read The Scarlet Letter cover to cover.
Smith then asks himself, "Why am I doing this? What would it hurt to say, 'You know, I've never read that.'" Here's his analysis:
To tell the truth, I lie a fair amount. And so do you, I suspect. We all lie a lot more than we realize because we have a strong and intricate system of rationalization that justifies our deceptions. (104)
In other words, we lie because we don't want to look unintelligent.
We lie to try make other people like us or relate to us.
We lie to see outcomes go the way we want them to go.
We lie because we're often scared of the ripples of the truth.
We lie because we don't know any other way to handle the world.
One of Jesus' most ignored and misrepresented teachings is the one regarding "oaths":
But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matt. 5:34-37, NIV)
This isn't a commandment not to make promises, nor is it about "swearing" in the sense of our language. Dallas Willard calls this a passage about "verbal manipulation."
In other words, a song and dance. Words that hide the truth to achieve whatever goal we have in mind.
The truth is that we all do this, and probably more often than we think, but to move in the opposite direction has to come from a transformed heart.
We need to become convinced that to simply say "yes" or "no" is actually the best thing we could do.
This is a heart question - are we the kind of person who tells the truth, avoiding verbal manipulation, without thinking about it? Are we the kind of person who doesn't need to verbally maneuver people in order to live life to the full?
Here are some suggestions on how to move away from lying:
1. Count to 10 before you respond in conversation. So much of the issue of lying is that our mouths engage before our hearts critique. Think about what you're about to say to someone - is it true? Will it stand up if they question it? Taking 10 seconds to pause before we speak will help us engage that filter of "yes" and "no" that will feed and care for our souls.
2. Know your identity. The struggle with truth also comes from our want and need to find our identity in other people's acceptance. We lie so that they won't think negatively of us, and therefore we become who they see us to be. Paul in Colossians says, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (3:3) Our identity is as one beloved by God, safe and strong in Him, totally dependent on Him. We can live truthfully and fruitfully from that place, which is constant and unshakable.
3. Practice silence. Silence is that quiet of soul and spirit that is so contrary to our busy, noisy, and distracted world. If we take regular times to shut down, breathe deeply, and listen we won't be so quick to speak and so we won't find ourselves in places where we have to speak. Silence teaches us to listen well, so that when we say something it is coming from that deep and world-shaping identity in Christ that needs to cover our words and actions completely.
I'm a liar. I admit it. I nod my head when I have no idea what people are talking about so they don't know I have no idea what they're talking about. It is dangerous for my soul, and so I pray you'd join me in the quiet so we can have the kind of hearts that say "yes" and "no" without a second thought.