When Nick and I first became parents, we were given a piece of sound advice: There are two pillars in parenting: first-time obedience, and honesty. Start early and allow no grey areas: your children are to respond to your first instruction, and they are to tell you the truth.
And it didn’t take long for us to realize how high a standard that wise soul had offered us. We were stunned how quickly we had to engage little people–toddlers!–to contend against cute ignorance.
Over time, we identified a few other issues that we treat with the same sobriety…. But obedience and honesty are two of the strings we seem to have to play with frustrating consistency. Just when we think we’ve laid that foundation firmly, a crack appears and we feel like we begin all over.
Like all people, all three of our children express themselves differently, value different things, and struggle with different challenges.
Aly struggles to tell the whole truth. Over time, I realized she just really wanted me to be happy with her, and so withheld details she felt might trigger hard conversations. I experimented with softer approaches (wondering if I had been too hard on her at some point) but still, the problem was ongoing— Aly was telling half-truths, or omitting telling me anything she felt I might not want to hear (which, for our family, is a lie in a different color).
When I watched the same thing happen at a school event with one of her friends, I realized it wasn’t about me. Aly preferred to write her version of events–omitting any personal failure or embarrassment.
Our number one goal with Aly–really, with all our kids–is relationship. It is key to everything. Her ability to communicate the unfiltered details of her heart will safeguard her and strengthen her against some of the things girls so easily succumb to. It allows her daddy and me to build her well, minister to her intimately, to guide her thoughtfully, and call her up. It makes it possible for us to truly know her. Without training up in her a heart that tells the full truth, a part of her would always be unreachable.
For us, that’s a dealbreaker.
So when Aly told me her third half-truth in as many days, I recognized a troubling trend: Aly was hiding. She was calculating what she said and measuring to me whatever parts of the truth she thought I’d believe or celebrate. These omissions weren’t serious, but it wasn’t the facts I was after–it was her heart, and I saw fear trying to teach her survival skills.
Aly stood there, entrenched in her story. I looked at her, feeling the cool strength of my resolve engage her. “This is not the whole truth,” I said. And then, honestly, I sent her upstairs for a shower because I needed a hot minute to think.
I spent most of that time cleaning the kitchen and pondering: what does Jesus do when I lie? What happens when I try to sell Him half the truth? I knew that answer would inform my parenting.
Any time a lie–even a partial one–gets between me and Jesus, I feel Him get very serious, and I sense a righteous grief. He is patient but gets closer–and movement stops, in a full, ominous expression of love that is ready for war. I have been to the edge of his grace, where it turns into full-blown discipline. When a lie gets between me and Jesus, He stands really tall and reminds me Who He is, jaw angled and chest high. He is the Truth. Anything in me that is not in Him is brought into repentance, or into rebellion–into life, or into death.
The way Jesus has responded to lies in me is one of the reasons I know what it is to fear Him. He subdues lies like David subdued enemies. There is no storm like when Jesus overcomes a lie. I knew my response to lies needed to be weighty, because they are so deadly. But also, I still didn’t know what to do or say.
Aly took her time upstairs, and finally came down, quietly murmuring the part she was most interested in: “Mommy, what is my punishment?”
I took a seat on my kitchen stool and she faced me, pulling spaghetti strands off her dinner plate. I took a leap, feeling totally inadequate, really needing Holy Spirit to meet me where my heart intersected with my mouth.
“Aly, I feel like I need to tell you a story.
Aly looked confused, resenting any delay between this moment and clarity on what her consequence would be.
“In the bible, there’s a story about Ananias and Sapphira. They lived after Jesus returned to God. At that time, the Holy Spirit and the unity of the believers was so strong that they were really passionate about taking care of each other. Jesus’ love in them was really strong. They were even selling things and bringing the money to the apostles.
“Ananias and Sapphira had land, and they sold it. I don’t remember how much they got, but let’s say it was $5,000. (Her eyes grew wide.) They decided to keep some of the money for themselves. So they took $4,000 to the apostles, and kept $1,000 of the money.
“When Ananias took the money to the apostles, they asked him Is this the full price for the land you sold? and he said it was. (Aly immediately disapproved–they were lying!) Peter had the Holy Spirit in his heart and knew Ananias was lying to him.
“He asked him: What has happened in your heart that you would lie to the Holy Spirit? And Aly, right there, the Holy Spirit struck down Ananias and he died. And they carried him out.”
I continued with the story, scraping it clumsily from memory. I was pretty sure I was missing pieces, but I just trusted the Spirit. I hadn’t planned to tell this story, but it had just come up and out of me. So I kept going…
“Sapphira came in, and did not know Ananias was dead. The apostles asked her the same question: Is this the full price of the land you sold? and she also said it was. But Peter had the Holy Spirit and he knew her lie. He asked her the same question: What has happened in your heart that you would lie to the Holy Spirit? And the Holy Spirit struck her down too. Men carried her dead body out and buried her.”
Aly drew close and settled at my feet.
“Aly, I have told you from the day you were born that you are very important. I believe your generation and my generation is really important! I believe Jesus is coming back, that we are going to see His face. I know the Holy Spirit is in you. Remember how I am often asking what you see and feel and dream? The songs that come out of you, the pictures you draw, the things you see and feel–Aly–you are really important! Jesus is coming back–in us!”
Tears sprang to her eyes and I knew the Spirit was laying upon us both. I was suddenly fully examining my own heart, all over again, as I spoke, convicted toward my own holiness as I contended for my precious daughter.
“That’s why our standard is so high. And we aren’t perfect, and we’re learning. Aly you are strong, and smart, and pure, and holy. You are a truth-teller. You are brave. You are kind enough to be honest. The truth is the only way that the Holy Spirit communicates. Jesus IS the truth; we must be people of the truth. We can’t be really close to Jesus, to be intimate with His Spirit, when we have lies in our hearts. Even half-lies. They’ll make us weak and feed the fear we feel. But Jesus makes us wise with the truth.
“You are surrounded by people who probably don’t think much about telling half the truth. At school, I’ll bet you get used to hearing half the truth, or playing games about lies. And I understand. It is hard to tell the whole truth when you’re afraid. You worry how others might respond, or if they’ll be mean or misunderstand you. The world likes half-truths. But Aly, in our home, we are people of the truth. You are a lady of truth.
“Lies in us are death. That isn’t how Jesus wants our hearts to be. He came so we’d have life in us that never ever ends. Lies tie us up inside. The truth makes us free inside.
“Daddy and I love you. Jesus loves you. Feed on that love and let it make you brave enough to tell the truth, even when you’re afraid.”
She began crying softly. It was just so precious as Jesus met us there, mother and daughter, in His sanctuary, in our kitchen, in our hearts, in His Spirit.
I urged her, “Dear, do not cry. This is a talk of love and hope. It’s because you are so important that I cannot allow you to lie. Mommy’s job is to help make sure that everything inside of you is revealed. I will fight for you in this. We will do this together. It’s that important. You are that important. Our family is that important!”
She’ll need that lesson again. We both will. In a different form, with varying measures of gentleness and wrath. This one is hard for Aly and I understand, because I’m not much different from her in many ways. But Jesus is returning. THAT IS REAL. Father, help us make every stride we can in ensuring our hearts are strong and mighty thrones for His reality.
And if there are lies alive in us, the Truth Himself can only ever be to us as a dark mirror. No! Truth is a person..soon we shall see face-to-face!