Deception is both prevalent and pernicious in our society. Liars lie, and we sense it all around us – in lofty arenas like politics and advertising all the way down to the little lies we tell every day to either impress or deceive those around us.
But what about the lies we tell ourselves? Perhaps no deception is more harmful than that perpetrated by us on us.
As a pastor, I have a career that’s all about dealing with transgressions. Call them mistakes, challenges or whatever, they all boil down to plain, old-fashioned sin – whose abundance in our world guarantees my job security.
Almost daily I sit with those whose wrong-doings have brought about tragic consequences. They come asking me to make things all better. It’s as though they’ve taken a 2-liter bottle of soda, shaken it, and let it explode all over the room. Now they want me to get it back in the bottle.
Over the years I have come to recognize the favorite excuses people make when I start to drill down into their attitudes and actions. And they aren’t really excuses. They are lies we all – at times – tell ourselves. Why? Because we think they hide our own culpability.
Here are the top three lies we tell ourselves:
Lie No. 1: I’m a good person even though I do bad things. The erroneous divide between who we are and what we do has become a Grand Canyon-sized ethical death trap in our day.
Jesus had it right when he said you could tell the health of the tree by the fruit it bears. While we all do bad things from time to time, good people are self-aware enough to realize the presence of “bad fruit” is not something they can live with.
They confess it to themselves and others and commit to living sincere, righteous, honest, and helpful lives going forward. Those who believe this lie allow the plaque of ethical duplicity to further clog the veins and arteries of their souls, shaping a heart known to be untrustworthy or worse.
Lie No. 2: I did everything right and bad things still happened to me. Over and over, when people tell me their stories, this comes out. They did everything right and their spouse still left.
They did everything right and still got fired. They did everything right and … you get the picture. The truth is that most consequences are linked directly to some preceding action.
Most people don’t react poorly without some provocation. Those who tell themselves they have no responsibility for the mess they’re in will seldom have the fortitude to work on their half of the problem.
Lie No. 3: If he or she changed, we’d be so much better. Often, when couples come in for help, I’ll give each a sheet of paper and ask them to write down three things that, if improved, would significantly help their marriage.
Almost without exception, each spouse writes down three things the other spouse should change or improve. This lie is especially toxic in that it blinds us to a most important truth. You can’t change anyone but yourself.
Relationships deteriorate, and then we attempt to coerce, manipulate, charm, or otherwise get the other person to change. We are sure the spouse is the problem. And it very well may be that the other person does need to change some things. But wake up!
You’re lying to yourself if you think the tension, problems, and challenges in your relationship are primarily the fault of someone else.
Those who believe this lie let themselves off the hook. This most often increases their pride as they focus on another’s transgressions instead of being reflective, humbled, and even angry about their own short-comings.
These lies, at first considered useful, actually erode our own being. They chisel away at our self-awareness, and when that happens, we become pliable, shifting our convictions based on circumstances. We become controlled, not internally by who we want to be, but by pragmatic desires that compromise our dreams of being our best self.
For me, as a Christ-follower, self-awareness is really God-awareness. It is my passion to live my life coram deo … before the face of God … who sees and knows me best.
Lying to myself may provide a smoke-screen to cover my guilt, but it doesn’t blind God, and ultimately, any character and reputation built on self-deception will be dashed by a reality that no amount of lying can mask.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. Ethically Speaking” is published Saturdays in The Signal.