Children tend to lie in two types of circumstances. We looked at the first reason in the last post. The response of immediately trying to deny responsibility comes naturally to us and to our children. Children are fearful of the consequences of their sin and lie to avoid them. Christ must be shown as the one who can bring peace to a fearful heart. It is vital that this pattern be addressed quickly and thoroughly. If it is not, then the habit lying will take root and become a means to other ends.
The next progression in lying is to lie when there is something to be acquired. This type of lie can range from trying to make someone else look bad to scheming to obtain something that cannot be had in a way that pleases God. In both situations the reason for the lie is the same—self-centeredness. But in this second type of lie, the reason for the lie moves beyond mere self-protection to the point of lying to achieve personal desires, even if it means hurting others. The story of Amnon illustrates this type of lie:
“Now Amnon had a friend named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”
Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”
“Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’ ”
So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.” II Samuel 13:3-6
The ESV and NLT translations use the word crafty to describe Jonadab in verse 3. The NIV and NASB translations use shrewd to describe him. Both words provide the picture of a scheming, deliberate liar who is following a selfish agenda. In this passage Jonadab advocates telling lies to obtain favor with a member of the royal family—no doubt an attempt to advance his own status. Amnon embraces the lie as a means to satisfy his raging lust. This is why lying is so despicable and dangerous. This sin uses our own lusts against us. So, you see the progression. This is not simply lying to avoid punishment. This type of lying bears a close connection with the ways of darkness (Eph. 2:1-3). This lie represents a scheming, crafty motivation. This is deceit reaching maturity. Often a young child will blurt out a lie that is foolish – with cookie crumbs all over his face and shirt, your son says, “I didn’t eat the cookie, Mommy.” The scheming liar, the crafty one, makes sure his face is clean and the cookie crumbs are on his sister’s shirt when he lies.
Youthful lusts go hand in hand with this second type of lie. The world encourages the indulgence of these desires. Teenagers are unlikely to tell their parents that they want to borrow the car to go to a party for drugs, drinking and sex. No, the story will more likely be along the lines of “… a couple of the guys want to go catch a movie and a pizza. And since Joe has to go back to school tomorrow I’ll be later than normal, okay? Thanks Dad”! This is what happened with Amnon. He didn’t care about what God wanted. He didn’t care about his father. He only cared about what his father could provide for him—in this case the object of his lust, Tamar. It is short leap from planting crumbs on your sister’s shirt to attempting to deceive Dad so that lusts can be indulged.
Notice that Amnon doesn’t even question whether it is appropriate to lie. He eagerly buys into Jonadab’s scheme. Amnon is being driven by his own lusts. When you see this pattern emerge in your children, pray for courage to acknowledge it for what it is. Self-pity is often at the base of these lies. Amnon in the throes of self-pity and lust acted without hesitation in following Jonadab’s scheme. It was a fatal decision.
Parents, if your children are sullen or aloof, they are especially vulnerable to this type of crafty scheming—or to following the direction of those who will scheme for them. Find out why your children are sad, withdrawn or sullen. This behavior is not simply a phase. It indicates a self-centered, troubled heart. With young children you have the opportunity to address issues of the heart that, if left alone, can grow to be life-dominating sins. Merely correcting behavior cannot be the goal here. You must address the heart. Christ alone can take the focus away from self-centered pity. Psalm 139 speaks of this reality. Help your children to find comfort in following God rather than themselves.
If you see this pattern in older children and teenagers, don’t think you can easily correct it by taking away privileges. There are deep-seated issues that must be addressed. This is the time to stop, pray and then begin investing yourself in your children to address these struggles. Intentionally conceived lies and schemes indicate a troubled heart.
Amnon trusted Jonadab. Why? Jonadab was willing to feed Amon’s desires. The narrative makes it clear that Jonadab was a self-serving conniver. A little later in the story we see him trying to use Amnon’s death to advance himself with King David. Amnon trusted Jonadab because Jonadab offered what he wanted. Amnon is like the simple fool in Proverbs 9:13-18. He is led to the slaughter by his own lust.
Do whatever it takes to find out what is troubling your child. Be thankful that God helped you to see these lies. Remember that self-pity is a lie in itself. Self-pity proclaims that God cannot be trusted, that his Word is hollow and empty. If your older child or teenager is mired in self-pity he has lost sight of trusting God. He does not believe that God can help him with whatever is troubling him. He may be embarrassed or emboldened by his sinful unhappiness. He may think that being held to Christian standards is short-changing him of the fun his friends are having. He may be driven to lies and alienated by pornography. He may be angry that the in-group at church or school ignores him. It is important to know what is behind the schemes and deceit. By pointing to Christ, you point your children in the right direction. Work with them. Lead them toward life that is truly life.
We have one more level to look at in this progression of lying. May God provide the grace necessary to battle this sin of lying and lead our children to the rich life of knowing Jesus Christ. I look forward to your comments.