By Phil Callaway
For 365 days I attempted to live without telling a lie. Did I succeed? No. Thankfully, the gospel has good news for guys like me.
Some phone calls can change a Saturday, some an entire year. This one would accomplish both. The voice was that of my editor friend Ron. “I’ve had an idea for a while,” he said. “It will make for a great book, and you’re just the guy to write it.”
“Is it about understanding women?” I asked. “About being sensitive to my wife’s needs?”
“Because I’m good at those things, Ron.”
“Are you telling the truth?”
“Uh … not really. Why do you ask?”
“Well, that’s what this book is about: complete and total honesty. I want you to see if you can tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth for an entire year,” Ron challenged.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “you’re breaking up on this end.”
The truth is, for some, a lie-less year would be an easy assignment. Not me. I lie for a living. Oh, I’m not a used-car salesman. Worse, I’m a humorist. I stand before audiences and tell stories that are 99 percent true — at least as far as I can remember. But sometimes, I add just enough salt to keep a tale savory, just enough falsehood to keep people interested. Some of the things I describe may not technically have happened, but they might just as well have.
I told Ron I had been a chronic fudger all my life. And that I learned it at church. The church of my childhood seemed to reward falsehood. Nothing was more important than outward appearance, so I learned early to fake my faith. I’d sing, “I love to tell the story of Jesus and His love,” when I would sooner have had my eyebrows plucked by spider monkeys than talk to anyone about God.
“My ancestors were horse traders, Ron. They sold slow animals then got out of town fast.”
“You’re our guy!” he said, and we hung up.
I told friends, “I’m taking a truth vow.” One said, “Isn’t that a bit like giving up arson for Lent?” Other questions troubled me. Could I stay happily married while being completely honest with my wife? And what are the side effects of being injected with sodium pentothal?
During the past year I spent more than $1,400 making up for past lies, including things from root beer payback to fudging on car insurance. But I learned lessons that were worth every penny. Here are three of them:
1. A closed mouth gathers no foot.
James 1:19 instructs us to be “slow to speak.” When my wife asks me if a dress makes her look fat, this is sage advice. Employing the acronym THINK is better still. Is it True? Is it Helpful? Will it Inspire her? Is it Necessary? Am I Kind about it?
Yes, there’s a time to confront, to speak up, but one of the surest steps to truthful living is to say less than I think. I’m often privileged to be with people who don’t share my faith. May my words be few. And may they be seasoned with grace.
2. Sin covers a multitude of brain cells.
I like playing Pac-man. I will sometimes choose it over reading the Bible. Not smart, I know. I like money. I know it won’t make me rich, make me happy, buy me love, or buy what it used to, but still I like it. One day an acquaintance approached me with an irresistible offer: Give him money and he would double it. I fell for his offer mostly because I couldn’t stand the thought of others getting ahead of me. I lost every single penny I gave him. There’s nothing smart about the love of money. I don’t rejoice enough. I weep with those who weep. I bring my wife’s casseroles to the sick and grieving. But when another author enjoys tremendous success or a friend sees his financial investments skyrocket, envy lurks nearby.
I’m learning that most of my problems relate to my temporary perspective. Focusing on eternity changes everything.
3. Without grace, we’re all toast.
For 365 days I attempted to live without telling a lie. Did I succeed? No. I will never completely measure up. Thankfully, the gospel has good news for guys like me. I love the way Tim Keller puts it: “I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me.” The result is that I live with thanksgiving, not obligation, overjoyed by grace.
As the story goes, in the 18th Century King Frederick of Prussia supposedly visited a prison in Berlin where all the inmates tried to convince the monarch of their innocence. All except one man, who sat quietly in a corner while the rest told their complicated stories. The king asked him, “Why are you here?
“Armed robbery, your Honor.”
The king asked, “Were you guilty?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
King Frederick then gave the guard an order: “Release this guilty man. I don’t want him corrupting all these innocent people.”
When I confess my failures and admit my need for God’s amazing grace, the truth sets me free. That’s why I’ve decided to keep this truth vow going the rest of my life. I’d like to leave a legacy characterized by truth and joy. Honest. •
Lies Kids Believe
One day I caught myself glancing at my son’s indiscernible artwork and saying, “That’s a beautiful frog!” It was a cloud. I’ve also said, “If you don’t cut it out, I’ll stop the car and you can walk home!” Oh, wait a minute. I meant that one.
Some parents take it further. Whether phoning in sick when they aren’t or threatening horrible consequences to their children’s actions, many admit to openly telling lies in the home.
When it comes to lying, wise parents ask themselves three questions:
1. Can my kids tell when I’m joking? Laughter is a prime aspect of a healthy home. But it should never come at kids’ expense. Telling them that three little pigs live under their bed and if they get up again they’ll lose their toes may be funny to you, but it’s terrifying to a children. Make sure they know when you’re kidding and that your humor is funny to them.
2. Is the whole truth necessary? There are a handful of times when the whole truth will not set your kids free. When our children began asking about sex and drugs, I knew they would ask other people if my wife and I didn’t provide suitable answers. But the information kids process should be age-appropriate. And the reason for withholding the truth should never be that you’re doing something underhanded.
3. Am I modeling the behavior I want my child to embrace? Children are better watchers than listeners. You can preach to them all day, then erase those important messages by the TV shows they see you watch or a lie they hear you tell. The truth is, there’s no teacher so powerful as example.
Phil Callaway is an award-winning author, speaker, and daddy of three. The best-selling author of 24 books, including To Be Perfectly Honest (Multnomah), he is a frequent guest on national radio and TV, and his humorous stories on family life have been featured in hundreds of magazines worldwide.
This article originally appeared in the September, 2011 issue of HomeLife. To subscribe to HomeLife, click here or on the magazine cover.