A Question of Honesty
Our oldest lies. He lies about his involvement in incidents. He lies about anything that might paint him in an unfavorable light. We catch him exaggerating at times to make himself look better. We talk about conspicuous honesty. We’ve read Bible passages. My husband and I have modeled honesty very carefully. We’re even very careful not to use white lies. We don’t know what to do to help him. We believe deep down he’s a wonderful person. I don’t think he understands what an issue this is … [and] he thinks we’re picking on him when we catch him in his lies. He seems more upset that he’s been caught than he feels ashamed about lying. How do we help him?
When we talked about sibling rivalry, we mentioned that it was one of the earliest sins shown in the Bible. Well, lying, deception, evasion, and blame shifting show up even earlier in the narrative of our fallen nature! When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit, Adam’s first reaction when God confronted him was to dodge the question and blame somebody else — “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree …” (Genesis 3:12a).
Followers of Jesus are always to be “speaking the truth in love,” and both our love and honesty are part of our life as believers — “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor …” (Ephesians 4:15, 25) So how to we teach this to our children?
These parents are already doing the very things we’d recommend – things we’ve tried to do with our own children:
1. Look to God’s Word for instruction. Always be sure that your kids understand that the Bible is not your special attack dog to unleash on their misbehavior — rather, it’s the guide which God has given parents and children alike who want to follow His ways. We try to emphasize that all of us have to wrestle with sin and temptation, and we all look for God’s wisdom in those pages. That said, we can confidently read them passages like the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16), and Proverbs 6:16-19, where there are seven things which are “an abomination” to God — including “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who breathes out lies ...”
2. Live the example. Our kids learn sooner from what they see than from what we tell them. And an 11-year-old already has a finely-tuned hypocrisy detector — if you cut corners, tell social fibs, and duck responsibility for your own actions, you can believe your son will see it and make careful note. If you want honest kids, you need to give them honest parents!
3. Balance the warnings with the blessings. Proverbs 12:22 repeats that “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD,” but continues, “but those who act faithfully are His delight.” What’s more, we’re told “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) The path of lying and deception lead to God’s anger and judgment, but truthfulness — even when it means admitting what we’ve done — is the pathway to God’s pleasure and forgiveness. That’s much better!
4. Make the consequences fit the offense. Sometimes kids will say things out of pure imagination and childishness; they can be brought to earth without making too big a case out of it, using it as a teaching opportunity. “Now don’t be silly; there’s not really an elephant in the living room, is there?”
But when they are intentionally deceiving to try and escape punishment or accountability, or if they are lying to try and gain an advantage they haven’t earned, that’s a much more serious matter. Remember than all discipline is about teaching, but other consequences are appropriate, too. “I’m sorry, Son, but I can’t let you go to the park with your friends; you haven’t been truthful about what you do when I can’t watch you, and I can’t trust you out of my sight. Maybe another day when I have time to go and watch.” (This can be a really important consequence to a young guy who is stretching for a little independence.)
5. Be sure to focus on your concern for their future. Sure, their misbehavior is embarrassing to us, it causes inconvenience, and it shames our family’s reputation — it’s all true! But we need to be sure and express our love and alarm about what these character habits might cost them in the future. “Son,” you might say, “I’m worried that if you make a habit out of making up untrue stories and lying about your actions, that it will cause you all kinds of problems you haven’t thought about. When you’re just a few years older, you could have a reputation for being dishonest. Employers don’t like to hire people they can’t trust. You’ll find that friends always keep a little distance from you, since they don’t know if you’ll be loyal to them or blame them for your own mistakes or misbehavior. And it will cause trouble finding a wife, or gaining her trust, or raising your own children one day. Believe me, Son, you don’t want to be a dishonest man — and the Bible says you won’t be able to keep it hidden, because Galatians 6:7 says, “Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap“!”
Here’s the hard part – what if you’re doing all the right things, and your child isn’t submitting to your instruction–or to God’s Word? What can you do?
You do the most important thing: 6. Pray, pray, pray! Ultimately, each of us has to deal with a holy and righteous Judge one-on-one, and it’s a matter of the heart. A sinner who is ashamed he got caught but not ashamed of his sinful actions, doesn’t have his heart in the right place yet. As parents, we can shape behavior, but we can’t change hearts … only God can do that.
Jesus said the Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment,” (John 16:8) and we have to rely on Him to be working to change the stubbornness that even young hearts may carry. He can touch the part we can’t see.
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