Jesus teaches that those who prove untrustworthy in small things will be untrustworthy in greater ones, while those you can trust in small matters are trustworthy all the way around. This simple statement points out that no one becomes a disciple nor a cad in one easy step. It is always a series of small choices, each of which create patterns that form us and determine our character.
An illustration: As I was growing up I often told "white lies", whether to spare someone’s feelings, save my own hide when I’d done something wrong, improve someone’s perception of me, or invent an excuse to get out of doing something I didn’t want to do. Yet I still thought of myself as an honest person. After all, everyone around me, even the people I admired, did the same thing on a regular basis. And how could an occasional little lie hurt, especially if it made my life easier?
But where does the line get drawn? When is it OK to stretch the truth or to lie a bit, especially given the reality that telling little lies made it so much easier to tell slightly bigger ones? Telling Nazis I am not hiding Jews when I actually am is sufficient justification to lie, but does my comfort or my avoidance of conflict meet the standard? I always know that if something about my behavior causes me to rationalize it or to cringe before God when bringing it to prayer, I need to change.
I decided not to allow myself to lie at all. If I didn’t want to do something, I could say "No, I have another commitment" even if that commitment was to my own time off, but I could not invent an excuse. If a friend asked whether I liked her dress and I didn’t, I’d say it was not my first choice and she had others that I liked better. If I was asked about something I had done, I needed to fully admit my part in it without deflecting the blame. I could go on with infinite examples, but suffice to say that this proved to be exceptionally difficult. I didn’t realize how many times I was telling little "harmless" lies, or how much those lies were supported in our society.
Even more disturbing was the level to which the principle behind it was creeping into my life. Cutting the hardest part of my workout short on one day made it so much easier to cut it out on another day. Allowing my schedule to get in the way of prayer time for a week made it infinitely more difficult to get back to my regular prayer time. I thought of all the business CEO’s and managers who made small and seemingly harmless choices in order to line their own pockets or artificially increase profitability, and when they got away with it, making bigger and bigger ones until the company or even the system collapsed. The higher the stakes, the easier it is to slide down that continuum. It is far better to not even venture onto the slope.
Although no one would have called me a dishonest person at any point, I am living with more integrity since I decided to stop those little white lies. The temptation remains, and I still fail on occasion, but Jesus taught me a lesson. I hope I can apply that lesson to every aspect of my life so I can stand tall before God and others as a trustworthy person in all ways, big and small.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.