(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
One Sunday evening after church, Mrs. Arnold spotted the Bradleys and invited them to the house for coffee.
“We’d love to come,” Mrs. Bradley said, “but we must get the children home and off to bed. Tomorrow is a school day and they’ve had a busy weekend. Maybe another time.”
Mrs. Arnold was a loud, talkative woman; the Bradleys did not want to subject themselves to an hour with her. Mrs. Bradley’s answer got them off the hook and did not hurt anyone’s feelings.
On the way home that night, Mr. Bradley agreed with his wife that she had handled the situation extremely well. They both believed that she had done a wholesome and constructive thing by turning down Mrs. Arnold’s invitation without hurting her feelings. This “invented reason” reply to the invitation was, however, a cover-up for why they did not accept the offer. Their answer was nothing short of a lie.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explained that God had given the church various skilled people to help it grow up–like evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Because of their ministry, he reminded the Ephesians: “We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–-Christ” (Eph. 4:14-15, italics added). He later re-emphasized, “Putting away lying, each one speak truth with his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25).
With this biblical advice in mind, how should Mrs. Bradley respond to Mrs. Arnold? What options does she have? Is she to bluntly tell Mrs. Arnold she is too loud and talkative? How can she decline without lying? One option is to decline without comment: “No thanks, not tonight” or “No thanks, we prefer not to.” If pressed for a reason she could respond, “I prefer not to give a reason” or “Someday I’ll tell you.”
Truth has a rugged hill to climb. It is natural to deceive. It’s much simpler to tell a lie. The other person may be satisfied, but Mrs. Bradley must live with herself.
It’s Wrong to Rationalize
Deception is so common and follows such well-defined patterns that the patterns can be described. Taken together they are called “mental mechanisms.” One such pattern, rationalization, is a process whereby one justifies his conduct. By using it, he gives himself good reasons for doing bad things. Lying, for example, can be called tact or diplomacy. Obviously, anyone ought to be tactfully or diplomatically or lovingly honest. But deception is a sin. It is easy to convince oneself that to do right is wrong, and to do wrong is right. Isaiah wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20).
Who has not faced the desire to do something that his better self tells him is not right, but still does it anyway? An example is exceeding the speed limit. “I’m late getting home and I don’t want to worry my wife,” a speeding driver will say. It is a good enough excuse. But looking squarely at the facts, few persons would accept his reasoning as valid for breaking the law.
Most persons are at least vaguely aware of inconsistencies in their lives. It is hard not to rationalize them. How difficult we find it to get down to reality and face conflicts, or to harmonize disagreements. We dislike being shown up, having our pride injured, or having our true selves exposed.
After the last of their children was married, the Gaylords sought counseling for Mrs. Gaylord’s incurable loneliness. As we looked into their story, we found more than a yearning to be with the children. Mr. and Mrs. Gaylord were at war with each other.
They had been unfriendly toward each other for years, having a long series of unresolved conflicts between them. Because they found no companionship in each other, Mrs. Gaylord gave herself wholly to rearing the children and he buried himself in his work. The children provided the buffer zone that allowed them to live fairly peaceably under one roof. In the children, they found a way to tolerate each other. They rationalized their solution so that each believed he was giving his all solely for the children.
Even when they sought help, they thought Mrs. Gaylord’s problem was loneliness. Mr. Gaylord was very concerned. He said he would do anything to help her get over her loneliness.
Once they faced the real problem–-their cold-war-turned-hot now that the children had taken away the buffer strip–-they started to work on the solution. It was not easy. They had developed so strong a habit of camouflaging the truth that they needed a great amount of help in breaking out of their almost automatic pattern of self-deception.
As an example, for years he thought nothing of telephoning his wife to say that he had to take a customer out to dinner. The truth was, however, that he at times almost begged a customer to eat with him because he did not want to go home.
Rationalization can become a subtle habit of the inner life. Dishonesty and deception can, in time, become so easy to live with that you can “kid” yourself into believing whatever you want to believe.