. . . that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.1 Timothy 2:2
Paul must have struggled with being completely honest in teaching the gospel. After all, his conversion came when he was in the midst of persecuting the followers of Christ. Admitting his past had to have felt like a barrier to effective teaching. For him, of all people, to testify of Christ must have caused a few eyebrows to arch, and the temptation to ignore or soft-pedal his past must have been real.
But you would never know it from his writings. Paul wrote with transparency and honesty. He not only acknowledged his past, but he used it as a teaching tool to show others the way to repentance. He seemed to understand that people seeing you as “good” is helpful in missionary work, but people seeing you as “redeemed” is essential.
Honesty has fallen on hard times as a virtue. We present polished images of ourselves in social media, we touch up our pictures to conceal a blemish or eliminate an extra chin. We have come to expect and tolerate a degree of dishonesty from politicians, bosses, friends, and even ourselves. A quiet, peaceable, and honest life is becoming a nostalgic notion.
I think there are three ways we can all work on our honestly.
First, we can be a little more honest with ourselves. There is significant danger in believing the narratives that we all write about our lives. Personal development, deep relationships, and enduring happiness all require us to be honest about our strengths and weaknesses, finding ways to shore up the first and improve on the latter. Becoming better requires an honest diagnosis of our current condition.
Second, we can be a little more honest with our fellow men and women. Especially from a gospel perspective, and the need to bring others to Christ, it is hard to touch other hearts when we pretend to live in gilded towers of righteousness. I have heard countless people who were investigating the Church or have become disaffected with it express their dismay at being unable to live up to the standards of the “righteous” people they encountered on Sundays. They didn’t understand that most of us can only put on our best face for those three (and now two) hours, and that given just a little more time, we are certain to disappoint.
I remember a lesson in a priesthood meeting years ago where the topic was introduced, followed by “I’m sure that this isn’t an issue for any of us.” I raised my hand and asked, “How do you know it isn’t an issue for me?” I learn little from talks in Sacrament meeting that address what “you” need to do instead of what “we” need to do. In contrast, my soul is enriched by speakers who acknowledge their weakness and share how they are trying to overcome. Those are people that I know are my fellow travelers, and their courage gives me hope.
While we shouldn’t dwell to excess on our failings, acknowledging that we are stumbling through life ourselves will encourage others to endure when nursing stubbed toes.
Third, we can be a little more honest with God. That might seem counter-intuitive, since God is omniscient and knows us perfectly. But there are things that He knows that we refuse to admit. This is similar in some ways to being honest with ourselves, but there is the added element of communication: How often in our prayers do we really open up with our Father in Heaven, admit the issues we are struggling with, and honestly plead for help? If we do, how honest are we in our intent to accept and follow the counsel given to us by the Spirit?
How many of us, in times of extreme opposition or trial propose insincere “deals” with God? “If You get me through this, I promise that I will never again…” We make promises that we don’t keep, thinking that our Father will keep His end of the deal, no matter how often we breach the contract. We think of Him less as a Father in Heaven and more as a Grandfather in Heaven, who can be cajoled into giving us what we want with a little bit of flattery and a convincing smile. In our dealings with the Divine, we probably all could do with a little more candor.
While the importance of honesty may have dimmed in the eyes of the world, it has never been less of a commandment or expectation in the eyes of God. With ourselves, our neighbors, and our Father in Heaven, it is a standard of sainthood and a duty of discipleship.
We all need to know what it means to be honest. Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.James E. Faust