"Oh no! I have a book report due tomorrow, and I haven't read my book yet!"
I stared in irritation at my 12-year-old son, Landon. This was the first I'd heard of a book report.
"Oh well. I'll just read a few pages and write my report from that. My teacher won't know."
"Landon!" I admonished. "You can't do that. That would be lying!"
"No, it's not, Mom. It's just stretching the truth, and that's okay."
An intense discussion followed about the difference between lying and "stretching the truth." Tyler, my 14 year old, joined sides with his brother. After several minutes, Landon played his trump card: "Mom, even my teacher, Mr. Casey, says it's okay to stretch the truth."
He explained that his teacher had told the class about filling out a job application when he was a teenager. Since he had no sales experience, Mr. Casey asked his dad if he should lie or tell the truth.
"Got anything in your pocket you can sell me?" his dad had asked him.
Mr. Casey had held out a pocketknife, and his father had paid him 50 cents. "There! Now you have experience." Mr. Casey ended his story by saying that sometimes you have to stretch the truth to get what you want.
At that point I knew I'd lost the battlebut I wasn't about to lose the war! I prayed God would show me a practical way to bring home the problem with stretching the truth.
There was a remote-control car race at the local fairgrounds that day, and my sons had begged to go. I'd put them off, preferring to spend our afternoon at home. Now an idea sprouted in my mind. "Hey boys! You want to drive to the races?"
They came running, cameras in hand, delighted by my change of heart. All the way to the fairgrounds they chatted excitedly about who they thought would win. As I pulled into the parking lot, their doors flew open before I even turned off the car.
"Whoa! Wait a minute!" I said. "I want to talk to you." Groaning impatiently, they sat back down. "I said we'd drive to the races, I didn't say we're going in. I stretched the truth."
Tyler and Landon stared at me, dumbfounded. Stretching the truth had just taken on new meaning. "I want you to remember two things," I continued. "Stretching the truth is always a lie, and it always hurts someone." Then I backed out of the parking lot.
On the way home, in the silent car, God reminded me of the Israelitesprompting me to make a quick detour to the Dairy Queen.
"Remember when the Israelites doubted God?" I asked. "Their attitude grieved him. As punishment, he denied them the privilege of living in the Promised Land. Still, all the time they wandered in the desert, God kept them fed and clothed. He comforted them through their punishment."
Then to comfort Tyler and Landon, I bought them each an ice cream sundae. They enjoyed the treat, but agreed it was nothing compared to how they would have enjoyed the car races.
"Our own will is never as pleasant as God's will," I said. "If you want to enjoy life, obey God."
Even as I was thanking God for providing me with such a timely illustration for the boys, he was preparing a few illustrations to use on me!
Now that Tyler and Landon were dedicated advocates of honesty, they confronted me daily with examples of stretched-out truth in commercials, advertisements, brochureseverywhere!
I didn't mind the boys pointing out these examples to me; I did mind it, however, when they started pointing out ways I stretched the truth. One evening, while I was reading the newspaper, the telephone rang. Not wanting to be interrupted, I told Tyler to tell the caller I was busy.
Holding the receiver out, he stared at me steadily. We both knew I was asking him to stretch the truth. Grudgingly, I got up to take the call.
"Good for you, Mom," Tyler whispered as I took the phone. "I'm proud of you for not making me lie."
Another time, Tyler and Landon overheard me tell their grandmother I had a meeting to attend when actually I was having lunch with a friend. My mother-in-law considers lunch with friends a waste of time and money, and I was trying to save myself some grief. My sons called me on it.
This truth stuff was becoming a pain! I'd considered myself to be a truthful person, and I didn't enjoy being forced to see another side of myself.
One day, I had to perform a well-flow test for a customer of our drilling business. This involves measuring the continuous flow of water in a well every half-hour for four hours. It was a cold day with a rainy drizzle. After three and a half hours of miserable sogginess, I called it quits.
Reality dawned as I typed the certificate at home: "I certify this well tested at 10 gpm for 4 hours." Not only was I stretching the truthI was certifying it as well!
The temptation to lie is so subtle; at times it can even seem to be the reasonable action to take. What was the point in my staying out there any longer when the well had already proved itself? Or what about when the grocery clerk gives me back too much change, and I don't realize it until I'm in the car? Does it make sense to waste time by going back inside to return a few cents? Besides, there certainly have been times when I didn't receive enough change. Doesn't it all even out?
Can we be too nitpicky about this, God? I wondered one afternoon, weary of this new vigilance to the truth. Searching my Bible, I found more than 200 references to truth. One was, "Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart" (Proverbs 3:3, NASB). Many verses used even stronger wording: "The Lord detests lying lips" (Proverbs 12:22); "There are six things the Lord hates. " (Proverbs 6:16). Lying is the second item on the list.
God places high value on truth. I, then, needed to as well. If I continued stretching the truth, it would be pulled thinner and thinner, eventually losing its significance altogether. Every time I stretch the truth, I'm eroding my character. Even if no one else knows or is hurt, I'm hurting myself.
The trouble with being truthful, though, as I quickly discovered, is that it can be a real bother. It can mean accepting the blame for something I could have slithered out of unnoticed, or having to do something I'm not in the mood to do. But I'm learning there's no feeling to equal that of a clear conscience, one I didn't have to wrestle into submission through rationalization. That feeling makes the bother worthwhile.
Landon's reading grade suffered because of his late book report. But the setback was only temporary. He soon had his grade up again and has learned the value of working ahead. As a family we continue to hold each other accountable to truthfulness in all things. If God values truthtelling, then we want to do everything we can to cultivate that value. Complete obedience to God does bring the greatest happiness. We're reminded of that each time we pass the Dairy Queen!
Mayo Mathers lives and writes in Oregon with her family.