My daughter Katie was a child prodigy. Most would be proud; I was not. You see, Katie did not master trigonometry at 3, or pick out Bach symphonies at 5. Instead, my Katie was a gifted liar.
She figured out how to lie before children are supposed to realize there is any advantage to it. By age three, most kids have figured out that lying may be a way to escape the time out chair. My child, when she was barely two, would brazenly claim that she had not eaten that last cookie, despite the crumbs all over her face.
Unfortunately, recent studies predict that Katie will continue such behaviour. The Josephson Institute of Ethics found that ninety-three percent of teens have lied to their parents, eighty-three percent to their teachers, and seventy-four percent have cheated on a test.
What’s most distressing, though, is that religious attendance, religious schools and even religious beliefs hardly budged the numbers. Indeed, those attending religious schools are actually more likely to lie to their parents (95%).
I wonder if part of the problem is that the church, for far too long, has emphasized outward signs of godliness. We may pay lip service to honesty, but our kids see what is really important to us. We want to appear like we have all the “big” sins—usually sexual ones—under control. And when we start a hierarchy of sins, it’s easy for honesty, one of the “little” virtues, to fall by the wayside.
John Townsend and Henry Cloud, authors of Boundaries, have said that the ideal church would resemble an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. At AA, the first thing you have to do is admit that you’re a failure. You say, “I’m Sheila and I’m an alcoholic”. At church, we should also be inclined to say, “I’m Sheila and I’m a dirty rotten sinner.” Too often, instead, we smile and try to look perfect.
As parents, we’re also invested in keeping up appearances. We concentrate on academic awards, on sports trophies, on the things that bring prestige. After all, you can’t brag “my son hasn’t yelled at his sister for two days” in the same way you can brag about straight A’s. Yet what is more important?
A wise woman once told me that the price of lying is that you become a liar. The sin affects who you are. I refuse to believe Katie is destined to be a liar, and I will work hard at steering her on the right path by concentrating on the little things. That will take effort. We can’t parent by default. It means, even when we’re tired, we have to intervene when character is at stake. But the effort is worth it. It won’t just transform their lives; it could transform our whole church culture as well.