Monday, March 3, 2014

Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

In 1997, Jim Carrey was honestly hilarious in his role as Fletcher Reede, a fast-talking lawyer who has to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth for 24 hours after his son's magical birthday wish comes true. Now, sure Liar Liar is entirely a work of fiction, and it's just a bit of fun to watch as Fletcher convulses and talks in weird voices only because he can't lie... but I wanted to take some time to talk about it today because I think there are some really good truths hidden in amidst the fun for us!

First of all, the movie makes it clear that lying has a way of hurting both others and yourself.

In the beginning, it appears that Fletcher will lie to almost anyone to get what he wants. He lies to his co-workers so they'll all like him. He lies to the receptionist so he can avoid awkwardness. He even recruits his secretary to lie on his behalf, and he doesn't seem to have any remorse over it. But when Fletcher tells his ex-wife that he'll be there to pick up his son at a certain time and he doesn't show up, it hurts them. It hurts his son, especially, and knowing this upsets him, too.

Maybe you don't consider it a lie when you make a promise and you can't follow through because of circumstances beyond your control, but to the person on the other side, it still feels the same. You said you'd do one thing, and you didn't keep your word. Whether it was your fault or not, that doesn't always change things - especially not in Fletcher's case, where we learn that this is a long-standing pattern. After Fletcher fails to come through too many times, his ex finally decides she can't put herself or their son Max through this anymore, so she accepts an offer to move away and marry her boyfriend. She's not really ready for that step, but she has to do something to make a change.

Lies and broken promises will hurt the ones you love, and they will wind up hurting you, too! That's why the Bible says we should never lie, and it's better to not to make a promise at all than to make one you can't keep (Leviticus 19:11-12; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6).

"Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
but those who act faithfully are his delight."
- Proverbs 12:22

Life would be so much easier if we all just told the truth all the time, then, right?

Well, maybe not...

This is the second big truth the movie shows us: Telling the truth can still hurt others and yourself.

 Even though Max only wishes that his father won't be able to tell a lie for 24 hours, what happens is actually something bigger. Not only can Fletcher not lie, but he apparently also cannot keep himself from saying whatever truth happens to pop into his head! Because of this, he ends up openly insulting his bosses, degrading his co-workers, chewing out homeless people, making a mockery out of the courtroom, and ultimately admitting to a handful of personal faults, including how greedy and selfish he is and the fact that he knows he's a bad father.

"Is that all?"
"No... I have unpaid parking tickets!"


Some of these moments highlight the truth that just because something is true, doesn't mean you need to say it.

I'm reminded of these words of wisdom:

"The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues."
- Proverbs 17:27-28 (NIV)

When you're about to say something that has the potential to hurt someone, it's important to ask yourself first, "Does it need to be said?" and if so, "How does it need to be said?" Some of Fletcher's personal revelations about his sex life, for instance, really don't need to be broadcast, because some things are not appropriate for all ears. Similarly, when Fletcher blurts out to one of his co-workers that he probably has high cholesterol, or when he tells another that her outfit is only good because it draws attention away from her hair, he may think these things are entirely true, and they may even be things these people need to know, but the manner in which he tells them is entirely inappropriate. Sometimes, it's very important to think through what you're saying, even if it's true! If you need to share a personal or painful truth with someone, it's important to do so in a loving way (Ephesians 4:15). And sometimes, the wisest thing you can say is nothing at all.

"A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly,
But the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness."
- Proverbs 15:1-2 (NKJV)

This doesn't mean it's alright to avoid the truth just because it'll make somebody upset or get you in trouble, but you can choose your words carefully without intending to deceive anyone. Weigh your words carefully!

One of the greatest lessons from the movie, though, is that the most important person you need to be honest with is yourself, even when it hurts.

At various times, Fletcher admits that he's cheap, that he's insensitive, that he assumes the worst of homeless people, that he has exploited technicalities in the legal system, and that he is a bad father. These revelations provide opportunities for him to take stock of himself and make changes in his life - opportunities that he sometimes takes advantage of and sometimes sadly doesn't. And I imagine that if we are all truly honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have faults, too. Maybe some of your faults are similar to Fletcher's, or maybe you have a few that he doesn't mention...

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step toward turning things around.

The next step is seeking out someone who can help. For Fletcher, he tried turning to his secretary, to his ex-wife, to a judge... and at first, none of them could really help him. Knowing who to turn to is extremely important! But when he began using the truth to show that he really wanted to change the bad things in his life, then others were there to forgive him and to help him, even after Max's birthday wish wore off.

"And the truth shall set you free!"
Fletcher quotes Jesus (see John 8:31-32)
Making a change in your life begins with admitting that you're not perfect, asking for help, and then literally making an effort to right what was wrong. And this is a good picture of what the Bible teaches that we all need to do. The Bible says we must confess our sins (our faults and imperfections) before we can ever expect to be freed from them. We must turn to Jesus (ask him to forgive us and help us, trusting that he can and will) because he's the only one who can truly free us. And then we must repent of our sins (actively try to turn our lives around) by saying no to the wrong things and yes to the right things with the power of God that Jesus gives to us.

This process of being honest with yourself, turning to Jesus, and trying to make a change for the better with his help is something that every believer goes through and should continue to go through over the course of a lifetime, because we all continue to be humans in need of perfection. But it's a process that helps us to be free and helps us to grow.

I invite you to take a few moments today just to think about the way you use your words...
   ...the way you treat your classmates, your co-workers, or your loved ones...
   ...the things in your life you wish you could be better about...
   ...the places where you have failed to be the loving person you know you ought to be...
   ...the full-out lies, half truths, and broken promises...

...and today, I invite you to do something to make it right.


Please comment on this post. Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? Is there something I left out or should have covered? Was something confusing? I want to know what you think!