Is it really better to be honest?

Alli Patterson

6 mins

I learned to lie early in my life.

My family had an unwritten rule: Never, under any circumstances, disappoint or hurt someone. People’s feelings must be spared at all costs. That sounds nice on the surface, doesn’t it? But it’s an insidious value.

At first glance it seems to be the good Kindergarten value of “always be kind to others.” A closer look, however, shows something different. With others’ feelings as the goal, “being nice” quickly turns into being responsible: responsible for the expectations and emotions of others. Eventually (inevitably) this leads to lies. White lies. Lies to get out of stuff with a smile. Lies because it’s nicer than the truth. None of us can hold the weight of others’ happiness without a little help from a fib every now and then.

I perfected the art of lying. And justifying it. We didn’t call it that, of course. I was just taught through example that it was better to “stretch the truth” and “spare someone else’s feelings” than to just be honest about who I was, what I wanted, or what I thought. It took me 15 years to unravel this behavior and begin to walk in truth. My name, Allison, actually means “Truthful One,” by the way.

When I was thirteen my neighbors started to call me to babysit. I never liked to babysit. I would cover up the phone and whisper, “Mom, what am I going to tell them?!” And back to me would come a helpful response, a nice-sounding lie that let us all hang up the phone in peace. Why tell the truth when I could just tell a lie and seem nicer? That way I’d stay the sweet neighbor girl who just happened to be busy that day.

I didn’t allow most people to really know who I was; they met the slightly nicer, more acceptable version of me. I learned to hide the things about me that felt disappointing to others, and I learned to value the things in me that others found acceptable. I devalued some of the very things that make me me. I learned that my eccentricities and uniqueness were something to hide, something for which I needed to apologize.

Guess what? I still don’t want to hold your baby. I really don’t want to babysit your kids. (And, no, that hasn’t made me a bad mom. I adore my own four kiddos). This is just me. Time to stop being sorry about it.

Was my disinterest in babysitting “out of character” for a 13-year-old girl? Maybe. Would it have been disappointing to the mom who needed a sitter? Definitely. But nonetheless I owed it to myself, and to them, to be honest about the real reason. This is a perfect example of the scores of subtle ways that I just gave up being me.

I decided I was done apologizing for who I am.

As I identified this pattern in my life, I may have gone a little far in the other direction. I may have swerved into the lane of brutal honesty for a couple years. I think my mom was scared of what might come out of my mouth for about a decade. Brutal truth doesn’t work either because living a life of love requires me to struggle with this equation:


{Truth + Grace} always thinks of the impact of its words on others. {Truth + Grace} always shows compassion. {Truth + Grace} never compromises what’s true to get acceptance in return. {Truth + Grace} puts others’ well-being ahead of itself, but knows exactly who it was made to be and sets about life unapologetically.

{Truth + Grace} is found deeply within the life of Jesus in the pages of the Bible. My struggle with how to execute {Truth + Grace} began as I started to get interested in how to follow Jesus. Not just believe in Him, but really follow his lead in my life. Jesus is the embodiment of {Truth + Grace} because he’s the embodiment of love. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is how Jesus is described by his best friend, John: full of grace and truth. The picture of love itself.

Truth without grace? Not love. Grace without truth? Not love.

Last week, I caught myself backsliding into old habits with my oldest son. (Parenting brings it all out). He was exhausted from basketball camp and got an invitation from a friend to go swimming. He asked me what he should say to his friend. I told him, “Tell him your mom says you have to catch up on the chores you missed from camp this week.” That was technically true. Technically. But the spirit of that comment was a lie to spare someone’s feelings, because I would gladly have let him go swimming. All my old crap came out in that one little comment. I realized it the next morning and went to talk with my son. I asked him to remember that parents have struggles, too, and gave him permission to call me out on the spot if I ever did this again. I explained my baggage, apologized for coaching him to lie, and told him the following things:

  1. Let’s just tell the truth. It is simpler. You are worth being known. It’s OK to disappoint others for the truth.
  2. Let’s both recognize the kind of situations where we are tempted to lie as the easy way out. Figuring this out actually gives some valuable personal insight!
  3. Let’s ask ourselves, “How could I tell the truth with grace?” We rehearsed a few things he could have said to his friend the night before.

He gave me a hug and told me I was forgiven.

Next time your friend (or that guy) texts and you don’t want to do something, how about letting the real you speak the truth? You’re tired. You don’t really want to date him. You hate Thai food. You’d rather be alone today. You’re uncomfortable with dogs. And how about doing it in a way that honors them, not leaving damage in your wake?

Let’s be done apologizing for just being ourselves. Somewhere in the struggle of doing that with {Truth + Grace}, you just might become who you already are.

Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

Discussion Questions

  1. Where do you most often tell white lies? What’s the motivation behind it?

  2. What would it take to start telling the truth instead?

  3. Think of one way to start being more honest this week. Set an alarm to text each other in a few days to help you actually do it. Peer pressure works.

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Alli Patterson
Meet the author

Alli Patterson

Passionate learner and teacher, wife and mother of 4. Alli’s work brings the Bible to life, to help you find and follow Jesus. She offers truth, vulnerability, courage, and hope in every single endeavor.

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