Honest to a Fault
By ryan stillwater
August 17, 2011
“All honesty aside, this is one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.”
A friend of mine slipped this comment to a church group during a trip to Yosemite. Apparently a big grin made its way around the circle like “the wave” at a baseball game. You’d be surprised how often he does this and how often it works. It accomplishes two things: 1. He gets to tell the truth. 2. It ‘s funny and can be masked as a joke if anyone catches on. The unintended consequence, however, is he’s not really being honest. It made me think, “Whose policy is honesty, anyway?”
I recently read an article by Bronnie Ware entitled, “Regrets of the Dying.” It is a list based on her experiences with patients in the last three to 12 weeks of their lives. It’s the third regret which haunts me personally:
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Simple. Painfully difficult. A paradox. Why suppress feelings anyway? Ware noted that “many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others.”
This wouldn’t be particularly bothersome except for one thing: 88 percent of people 70 years of age and older affiliate themselves with Christianity. I don’t see Yahweh suppressing His feelings. I don’t see Jesus doing it either. So just who bought us a shovel and taught us to bury ourselves emotionally? Who made “keeping the peace” one of our top priorities as Christians?
I just want to be an honest person. I want this regret off my bucket list. So all honesty aside … let’s stop here.
It's important to remember honesty and truth aren’t always the same thing. About a year ago, I read an article in Psychology Today entitled, “I Cannot Tell a Lie.” I assumed there was a medical condition literally prohibiting individuals from telling a lie. To my disappointment, the article merely revolved around a guy who can in fact tell a lie but instead chooses to tell the truth in all circumstances. He believes it to be a “moral imperative to tell people the truth.” The problem here isn’t that he tells the truth, as in fact versus fiction; he merely tells the truth as he sees it. For example, during a job interview “he told the hiring committee … they were doing everything wrong.” Is that kind of honesty totally necessary?
It brought up another important question: Is it ever OK to lie? If so, does that make me a liar?
This is one of those heart of the law versus letter of the law things. Rather than make a list of when it’s OK, let’s talk about why it might be OK at times.
Honesty is about speaking the truth in love—and doing so in the proper context. For example, if you have concerns about your spouse’s weight, don’t bring it up when you’re getting ready for a date night, while they’re standing in front of the mirror. The time and place for these types of conversations could in fact determine the future of your relationships. The point of being honest is building up, not tearing down. The truth may hurt, but it can be seasoned with love.
I have two heroes when it comes to honesty and for different reasons. Both possess a blunt tongue that both inspires and embarrasses me. The first, of course, is Jesus Himself. Again, we’re more interested in His wholehearted honesty, as opposed to His “no one gets to the Father except through me” kind of truth. A perfect example is the clearing of the temple episode.
There is one aspect particularly pertinent to our discussion: Jesus thought this thing through. John’s account shows Jesus discovering the temple filled with livestock and moneymen at which point He took the necessary amount of time to make a whip and then wreak some havoc. We’ve been there, right? Staring injustice in the face, you know what it’s like to feel your blood boiling with adrenaline, a sub-woofer in your chest. Jesus’ response was appropriate. It was just. It was honest. Perhaps more importantly, it was sanctioned by the Father (John 5:19).
My second hero of honesty is Dr. Gregory House, but for entirely different reasons. Watching that show is like getting a brain freeze from a sour Slurpee; I cringe every time. He lacks pity, empathy, compassion and understanding for even his most unfortunate patients. He mocks religious and cultural beliefs. He lies, cheats and steals. But he’s also honest—even when it exposes his faults, his most selfish tendencies. In a recent episode, House’s best friend and colleague, Dr. Wilson, opts to donate a portion of his liver to a dying friend. He asks House to be there for his surgery; House refuses.
“Why?” Wilson asks.
“Because if you die, I’m alone.”
I’m committed to be honest when it really counts—when injustice fills my Father’s temple, when friends walk the road more traveled, when family fears man more than God. And like House, I want to be honest even if it exposes just how self-centered I really am, even how “unChristian” I tend to be; I invite honesty in return. And when I feel pressure to “keep the peace,” I’ll think of what Jesus said: “I didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.”