Little Lies – Are They All That Sweet?

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Everyone faces the temptation to lie. Whether trying to get out of trouble, shirking an unpleasant responsibility, evading unwanted attention, mitigating an embarrassing situation, or exaggerating the truth just a bit to show up a rival who always talks about himself, we all stretch the truth from time to time (And even that’s a best-case scenario. Studies suggest that people can lie a few times per day to a few times every hour in certain circumstances. And we’ve all heard of (and maybe even told) white lies like calling in sick to work when we really want a day off or saying something untrue to make someone else feel better in a vulnerable moment. It could be that we’ve told a “big fish” tale that has grown over time with each retelling. 

Although we often downplay it, lying is a pretty big deal. It was through deception that the serpent murdered the human race in Eden (Genesis 3:1-19). God says that he hates lying lips (Proverbs 12:22). The apostle Paul says that deception belongs to the old self (Colossians 3:5-10), which means it is fundamentallyunchristian. 

Some of us might say, “So I told a little fib. What’s the big deal when it doesn’t hurt anyone?” Even small lies are significant. Research shows that telling inconsequential untruths conditions us to tell bigger ones. To put it differently, when we succeed in telling little lies, subconsciously, our brains believe that we can tell larger ones without consequence. It’s the age-old problem of desensitization to sin. Even little “terminological inexactitudes” can have a cumulative effect. 

Many of us—maybe all of us—tell untruths daily. Let’s look at some of the most prevalent lies out there. 

Phone Lies. Did you want to get out of telling someone you didn’t want to talk to them? How about, “My phone died”? Another version is, “My phone is about to die”—a classic exit strategy for a conversation that has grown stale. Then there’s “I had a problem with my phone,” which is general enough to cover many conversational issues, including letting someone go to voicemail because you’d rather not talk to them at the moment. But your problem wasn’t with your phone—it was with the person, and you lied about it—perhaps without hesitating.

Lies about Punctuality. When someone is expecting us, and we haven’t arrived yet, we might be tempted to tell them, “I’m almost there.” Of course, sometimes we do it when we haven’t even left yet. Another version is “I’m five minutes away.” Are you five minutes away? Or is it more like twenty? This lie runs the risk of getting compounded, especially because you can say you’re five minutes out and then blame traffic (another lie) when you arrive twenty minutes later. Sometimes you can use the latter all by itself. Who hasn’t been caught behind a traffic accident or unexpected road construction or somehow seemed to hit every red light on their trip? It might be believable, but our question is, “Is it true?” If it is, that’s fine—but not if it’s just covering the fact that we waited too long to leave or mismanaged our time and tried to disguise it with deceit. 

Lies about Expectations. Maybe we’ve been busy (or slacking off) and haven’t gotten something done. It’s easy to say, “I’m almost finished,” or “I can have it done by tomorrow.” This lie creates stress and pressures us to live up to our word, which may or may not happen depending on our to-do list. We might say, “It slipped my mind,” or “I was swamped” when we miss a deadline—but what we mean is, “What you wanted just isn’t a priority for me,” or “I didn’t budget enough time to get it done.” 

Lies about Social Engagement. These are some of the most easily-told lies in the book. You don’t want to spend time around someone? “I’ve already got plans.” If you want a way out of something or leave prematurely? “I have an appointment.” What about making that person feel better when you’ve been avoiding them? “I’ve been busy.” And for an easy exit from some impromptu plans you’d rather evade? “I’m tired” or “I’m not feeling well.” Most people can see these excuses from a mile away, but it is challenging to find the proper wording to get out of situations like these without hurting someone’s feelings. If the truth is as important as the Bible says, maybe we should consider how to say “no” politely. 

Work Lies. Unless you’re Superman and have never caught a common cold, virtually everyone has called in sick to work (or, if you’re a student, ditched class). According to one poll, over a third of the American workforce have called in sick when they weren’t ill. Almost half have caught an employee lying about being sick by checking their social media accounts. It’s hard to know whether these are accurate numbers because it reflects only those who are admitting the truth.

Lies about Communication. This is a broad range of things. It could cover telling someone that you thought you sent an email that you never did or saying that you didn’t get a message or it went to your spam folder. Maybe you are convinced you sent that email, because we all have moments where we think about something so much that we believe we did it when we didn’t. That’s an honest mistake, but not if we lie about it. 

Lies in Relationships. This is one of the most impactful areas for falsehoods because telling lies crosses important boundary lines. If your friend or loved one catches you telling a lie, no matter how small, they will wonder, “Where’s the line? What won’t they lie about?” Less blatant—or perhaps more excusable—are lies like, “I’m fine” or saying “Nothing” when asked what’s wrong. This is unwise, especially if we say it but want the other person to pull information out of us (which is disingenuous). It’s much better to be honest than expect other people to read our minds. But we also shouldn’t swing to the opposite extreme by telling someone that we won’t get angry if they’re honest with us and then get angry anyway. 

Lying to the Police. Specifically when it comes to traffic violations, and especially when it involves how fast you were driving before you got pulled over. “No, officer, I didn’t know how fast I was going.” It was on that giant dial right in front of your face, but maybe you’re driving a different car, and it just got away from you without you noticing, or you have a rare case of macular degeneration that only works with speedometers. That’s possible but statistically less likely than you just lied to the officer in the hopes he might let you go with a warning. 

Lies on Your Resume. There’s a nearly unlimited number of opportunities to lie on your resume or application or when being interviewed by a potential employer. You want a particular job and are willing to stretch the truth to get it—especially when you can claim proficiency in something and then figure you can make it truthful by getting up to speed before you start if the person hires you. You may not know how to do it now, but you can before your hire date, right? Guess what? Still a lie. You can’t tell a falsehood and later make it true. 

This doesn’t even begin to touch those moments when we lie to someone to spare their feelings or encourage them in a vulnerable moment. Those are lies, too, even if they are well-meaning. But it’s like the old saying about good intentions: the road to hell is paved with them. 

No one likes being caught in a lie. That can happen whether it’s big or small. Much more significant is the issue of the importance of truth. Jesus says he is the truth (John 14:6), as is God’s Word (John 17:17). One lie doomed the human race. One lie can violate someone’s trust and ruin a relationship. They are incredibly powerful, and are part of the reason why James spends quite a bit of time talking about the power—and danger—of the tongue (James 1:26; 3:1-12). 

God cannot tell anything other than the truth. If we’re going to imitate him (Ephesians 5:1-2), his standard is one we should strive for. Even little lies can pose big problems.