Who is telling the Truth?

Posted on February 28, 2011 · Posted in Lying, Parenting

Here is a comment from one of our readers about an issue related to lying. These kinds of comments are always welcome and I thank Michael for posting this.

“Thank you for these posts on lying. My 12 year old has participated in the sin of lying several times over the years causing him to be caught in it several times. He struggles with self-pity and I had never thought that it could be the root of his lying. Recently his 9 year old brother has contradicted his claims to the truth of a matter several times. Most recent it was concerning whether the 12 y.o. was playing a computer game when not allowed. As the parent I have no way of knowing who is claiming the truth. I did not observe it. Both are insistent on their position and I have no way of knowing who is telling the truth. What discipline do I meet-out? I don’t want to discipline unless I am firm in knowing the truth of the matter. But I know I must do something. Is instructing them both the only option? And do I take a side?”

This is an excellent question regarding how to deal with lying. As Michael indicates, the problem with lying is that it is, by its nature, deceptive. At least one thing we can know for certain—both boys are not telling the truth. So where does this leave Michael? To begin with, let’s consider a more basic concern here than lying.

Let’s start with the nine-year-old. He claims his brother is doing something that he is not allowed to do. It is important to help him have compassion and concern for his older brother. If indeed his older brother was not following directions, what is the response that God wants him to have? Perhaps surprisingly, the first thought should not be to run and inform his parents of the disobedience. The first thought should be, “How can I help my brother? Is the relationship of the two brothers such that he could lovingly encourage his brother not to disobey? If it is not, then there is a deeper issue here than playing the computer game at the wrong time. Their relationship should be one of helping each other love God and their parents first.

This may sound like I need some sort of reality check. What nine-year-old and twelve-year are going to have this as their default response to each other’s sin? But you see, this is precisely the point. No one would argue that the Bible does not teach this, we just wonder (and doubt) if this is even possible. Since we don’t think it is possible, we don’t even try to see this become reality in our children’s relationships with each other. The goal is not for the younger son to become a master informant to the parents. The goal must be for the younger son to love his brother more than he loves himself. If he does not, then the act of informing about his older brother’s sins will just build barriers between them.

For the younger brother’s words to have a positive impact on the older brother, he must work at being a loving friend to his brother. He should be helping his brother, doing things for him that are done out of love and selflessness. There should be prayer and gratitude regularly expressed for his brother. If this sort of expression of love were shown towards his brother; then he would be much more likely to receive an encouragement to play the computer game at a time when dad says it is okay.

The same sort of response should be encouraged from the older brother toward his younger brother. Here is how this problem might work itself out with both boys being concerned for the well-being of the other.

Tony observes his older brother on the computer when he is not supposed to be.

“Hey, Alan, what’s up?”

“Just playing Angry Birds, just trying to break my record for this level.”

“That’s cool. But remember, this is the time that Dad said we shouldn’t be on the computer.”

“Yeah, I know, but I am almost there with getting the record.”

“Alan, aw come on, you would be all over me, if I gave you an answer like that.”

“Yeah, I guess I would.”

“Look, later on, when it is cool to play, I’ll even give you a chance to break my record.”

“Your record—give me a break! Okay, Tony, thanks for helping me with this.”

“No problem, but there is no way you’re breaking any of my records!”

“We’ll see little brother, we’ll see.”

This is a case where lying may not really be the root issue but the result of a broken relationship. While this scenario may not seem to directly answer Michael’s question, it comes closer than you might think. Michael could ask each of his sons if their response to the situation with the computer game was one that truly was honoring to God. If the boys have been regularly taught to honor God first and making the spiritual welfare of their brother a high priority, then their responses should be significantly difference than what you might normally expected.

In this case, the reason for the lying, self-protection and self-pity has already been addressed by having trust in relationships where each son is cared for by the other. When lying is encountered, there is a much better hope of resolving this issue if children are confident that their siblings and parents are first committed to serving God by loving them.

As always, let me know your thoughts.

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.