Did you know that honesty and truth telling are part of living a blessed life (Psalm 34:12–13)? But we still lie. Why is that? Often it’s because we want to hide something. “I don’t want you to see this”—is the logic of most lies. Those who lie usually believe they have done something wrong; or they believe someone will be displeased with what they have done, or both.
The wrong might be accidentally jumping into a puddle when wearing good shoes. That is not necessarily wrong, but someone might be upset. Or it could be more serious: the child stole a desired object and does not want to give it up. That’s what sin is like: We want something, and we are going to try to get it no matter what God or anyone else says. When we hide, blaming someone else is an easy next step. We are all experts at hiding and blaming.
But our relationship with God and with each other is founded on being trustworthy and honest. God is the truth, so it’s impossible for him to lie (Hebrews 6:18). Satan is the liar (John 8:44). When we lie, we believe Satan’s lies and imitate his lies. Is there hope? Yes! We can learn to love the truth. Because Jesus came, died, and rose again, we can become truth tellers. In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul introduces our new life this way: “So you must stop telling lies. Tell each other the truth because we all belong to each other in the same body” (Ephesians 4:25). Speaking truth and avoiding lies are a priority for God’s people. Lies are divisive. They break our relationship with Jesus and with each other.
You will not eliminate all of your child’s lies, but you can form a relationship with your child in which God’s words bring truth, the truth is prized, and there are incentives for honesty.
Helping Your Child Walk in the Light
Parents need wise ways to rescue children who lie. This doesn’t mean that every lie should be met with a lengthy lecture and Bible study; it does mean that you need a plan.
1. Develop a relationship in which the truth is welcomed.
To put it another way, don’t get angry when children tell the truth about doing something wrong or foolish. An elementary school-age daughter had been assigned school work, which she was allowed to do online. She knew the family rules about screen time, but she gave in to temptation and went to some of her favorite sites. Later she went to her parents and confessed, “Mom and Dad, when I was supposed to do my homework, I went on other sites.” This is a critical moment for parents. You must choose wisely. Since speaking the truth is so important in Scripture, it deserves priority in your conversation. The child has chosen light over darkness, wisdom over foolishness. That gives you a way to say something like this: “What a hard and wise thing! You told the truth rather than tried to hide what you did.” This could be followed by some questions and dialogue. For example,
“Tell us how you decided to tell the truth.”
“How can we help you when you are tempted to disobey?”
“Let’s pray. Let’s thank Jesus and ask him for help.”
Imagine what would happen if you focused first on the child’s disobedience and reacted in anger. Your message would be clear: “Next time, don’t make Mommy or Daddy angry, don’t speak honestly, cover up those things that provoke.” The good news for parents is that missteps and old sins against our children can always be confessed, and children are unusually good at forgiving.
2. Develop a relationship in which it is natural to confess wrongs.
Parents hope to lead their children away from the bad (deceitfulness and hiding) and into the good (truth-telling and bringing what is hidden to the light), and there are ways you can practice this even when your children are not caught in lies. You can develop your family traditions of confessing sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves” (1 John 1:8). Confession is the opposite of lies. It speaks the truth. It comes out into the open, acknowledges wrongdoing, and knows the benefits of forgiveness and restored relationships. As we practice simple confession of sins, we are doing battle with our deceptive instincts.
Prayer before bedtime is a natural place for this, though confession doesn’t have to be part of every bedtime ritual—if children have obviously sinned during the day, best that they confess at that time. In the evening, you could say something like this: “Even when we belong to Jesus, we still sin, and God doesn’t want us to cover it up. He wants us to confess it, and, of course, he always forgives us. He likes to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Let’s pray. I will confess … Is there anything you want to confess to Jesus?”
Notice how you are not always saying, “Lying is wrong.” You are saying that confession is natural and good. Keep Psalm 32:1–5 in mind. It is worth knowing well enough to put in your own words. For example, “We can be really happy when we tell God what we have done wrong—he already knows what we have done, but it is really good for us to say it and ask for forgiveness. When we try to hide what we have done, it can feel like we are carrying around a huge box of junk. After we put it down, we feel so much better. That’s what it’s like when we tell our sin to God and know that he forgives us.” Speaking like this with your child creates opportunities to talk specifically about the death and resurrection of Jesus for our sins. When Jesus died for our sins, he actually took that box of sins from us.
Make the Questions Fit Your Situation
These two suggestions give you a structure for conversations. Then you work out the details by asking questions. For example, have friends ever lied to your children? What was that like for them? Why do they think we lie? (Like all sin, we lie because we want something that is wrong—and bad for us.) Why do they think God says that lying is wrong? What can we do when we are afraid that we will get in trouble if we tell the truth? As you talk, keep reminding your child that Jesus is right beside them—ready to help them tell the truth and confess their sins when they don’t. Jesus will give them the courage and the power to walk in the light (1 John 1:7).
The above content was adapted from Gwen Tells Tales: When It’s Hard to Tell the Truth. © 2021 by Edward T. Welch. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
Gwen Tells Tales: When It’s Hard to Tell the Truth
Gwen Raccoon is embarrassed when she gets a failing grade on a math test. But that’s not the big problem: the big problem is that she is cultivating the habit of lying to do what she wants and cover up her mistakes. Gwen’s lies pile up.
Image from Freepik.