A couple weeks ago in our RCIA class our instructor was telling us a funny story about his family. At one point in the story he mentioned that he wanted a snack at McDonalds but knew his wife wouldn’t approve since she was cooking dinner. At the prospect of just getting a small order of fries and telling her he forgot she was cooking he said, “Obviously I couldn’t lie like that, ” and continued on with his story.
Outwardly I nodded in agreement, but the thought popped into my head, “Well, ‘lie’ is an awfully strong word. It wouldn’t be THAT big of a deal, especially if you still ate dinner. Those sorts of things are just little ‘lies’. Nothing worth getting hung up on.”
I tried to get back into listening to his highly entertaining story but I kept getting distracted by the issue of whether or not that fries situation would really be a ‘lie’. I was so irritated with myself, I didn’t even want to be thinking about this stupid issue. It’s no big deal to just, you know, be like 99.5% honest about little things that don’t matter. Now what was he saying about that hilarious vacation to New Mexico…?
But it didn’t work. I tried to move on but I kept coming back to this issue. Finally, the next day, I decided that I might as well really think through it since something was obviously nagging at me. Though it still seemed like our instructor was being a bit uptight I realized that he was technically right to not tell lies, even if it’s about little things. I also realized that this is a clear requirement of being Christ-like. As the perfect being Jesus Christ would not have lied about anything, ever, so if you’re going to imitate him you must speak the truth in all matters, big and little.
So last week I decided that from now on I will attempt to be 100% honest in all my dealings. No problem, I thought. I’m a really honest person. I’d never lie about anything even remotely important. I guess I might tell little half-truths here and there since I do have a tendency to keep the peace by telling people what they want to hear (e.g. saying I think something will take five minutes when I know it will take at least fifteen) but I hardly even do that. This is going to be a non-event, I thought. I was wrong.
I have learned more about myself in the past week than I had in the past few years.
I have been shocked at how often the statements I make are not completely true, and what I see when I insist on speaking only the truth. In particular, I’ve found that I tell many little lies to myself, and the truth in those instances is most revealing of all. Some examples:
— It is my husband’s job to clean up the kitchen after dinner. A couple nights ago he got busy with something and I found myself with unexpected free time after dinner. I surveyed the kitchen in all its mess and said to myself, “I’d clean it up for him but I’m just too tired.” As I was heading over to the couch to read I asked myself if that was really true. Though I hadn’t slept much the night before I really wasn’t feeling tired at that moment. I just didn’t want to do it.
— My husband and I were chatting about our days after work last week and I made the statement that I’d wanted to deal with some important health insurance stuff but I just didn’t have time. It sounds plausible: I have an infant and a toddler, I’m super busy. But it wasn’t true. In fact, it was a double lie: I didn’t want to do it at all, and I didn’t have time only because I’d spent the kids’ nap time reading blogs.
— We’ve been making a big effort lately to save money, in particular on little things. My husband and I have both committed to making every effort to save even ten cents here and a dollar there at lunches, the grocery store, etc. since that sort of thing really adds up. I was at Target yesterday and made a purchase that I knew I could’ve saved at least three dollars on but I “didn’t have time” to evaluate all the alternatives, so I threw the expensive brand I was most familiar with in the cart. Of course I had the few extra minutes it would have taken to make an informed purchase. I just didn’t feel like it.
I could go on and on. The examples are myriad. It’s not to say that my behavior isn’t ever justifiable in these situations (e.g. I did really crave some time to myself after dinner; I had been dying to catch up on blog reading all week; and I was worried at Target that my son was about to have a meltdown) but by insisting on complete honesty, even with statements said only to myself, it forces me to deal with life in a much more direct way.
If I don’t want to clean up the kitchen because I really want time to myself, that might be fine. Maybe I need to restructure my weeks to include more “me” time. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to gloss over the issue with the ‘ol “I’m too tired” line.
But, more often, the truth ultimately boils down to sloth on my part. “I didn’t have time” is usually “I procrastinated until I ran out of time, ” “I was too tired” is often “I just didn’t feel like it”.
It’s funny how uncomfortable it is to be totally honest with myself. It’s no fun to say, “Man, the living room is a total mess. I’d clean it up but I don’t have…err, I don’t feel like it.” That’s a lot less satisfying than the old way! It makes me sound like a person I don’t want to be.
And I’ve found that, now that I’m being totally honest with myself, I’ve started to act a lot more like the person I do want to be. Since I can’t pass off laziness with lack of time, whitewash greed with supposed genuine need, etc. I’ve been inspired to go the extra mile in my daily life.
This whole endeavor has brought me back, once again, to the genius of Christian teaching. If there is no God, then the people who invented this belief system were brilliant. As so many other converts report, living a Catholic Christian life, even when I don’t feel close to God, has been deeply transformative on a level I could have never imagined. I’m a better wife, a better mother, a better person. If I were to decide tomorrow that there is no God I would continue to live as if there were. It’s a challenging, wonderful way to live.
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