I had a conversation with two counselees, and the issue of lying came up. I mentioned to them that telling falsehoods is a regular part of my profession. It was a sad, but true statement.
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Honestly, I’ve never thought much about lying as being part of what I do, though it is! People tell me lies regularly. Then I thought, “Does anyone talk about this.”
I don’t hear a lot of discussion about lying as it relates to counseling. I certainly don’t think a lot about lying and counseling.
And it didn’t dawn on me until I began to reflect on what I told my friends. Historically, I’ve just accepted it as part of what I do. In one sense, it is not a big deal.
What Are the Lies
Usually lying starts at the beginning of a counseling session while I’m trying to discover as many details about the past and current happenings of the folks I’m serving. In many cases, counselees do not come “completely clean.” Of course, there are those who are humble, transparent, and free enough to get down to core issues quickly.
In other situations, I’ve had to prod, ask, poke, seek, re-ask, search, and keep pressing into the individual because they do not want to come clean with all that is going on in their lives. On some occasions, we had gone three or more weeks in counseling before they would open up about their selves.
It was something they were holding back, something that had a significant effect on the counseling process. I ask why they didn’t tell me in the beginning and they usually say they were embarrassed to say, so they spun it, twisted it or just avoided it.
Lying is not just telling apparent falsehoods. There are several ways to tell lies that don’t fall within the domain of what we call “black and white.” For example, leaving out part of the truth when you know it’s wrong to do so is a form of lying.
Embellishing the truth or avoiding the facts are two more ways we can lie to each other. But, then, withholding the truth can be a wisdom issue, as Jesus was prone to withhold specific things from people for redemptive reasons (John 2:18-25). And the opposite is also true: misleading others by leaving out information can be sinful deception.
What Are the Motives?
Before you classify all forms of ambiguous or incomplete communication as lying, you must determine the motive behind the person’s unwillingness to reveal specific things about themselves or a situation to you. Here are a few considerations.
Can you steward what they need to say? Perhaps they are vetting you. It is always wise to vet the person you’re talking to because the hearer of the information may not be mature or competent enough to care for them.
If the person has had a horrible experience and they don’t know you, they will guard themselves against future potential hurt. They need for you to prove yourself. Are you competent? Are you compassionate?
Small talk is the prerequisite to deep conversation. And it is typically foolish to launch into in-depth communication with an individual that you do not know. The foolish person can err on either side of the spectrum by (1) withholding essential things that the discipler needs to know or (2) communicating too much too quickly.
Before you uncharitably judge a person for withholding the truth, be sure to assess yourself first (Matthew 7:3-5). Are you the reason they are not transparent?
Perhaps it is not you, but their horrific experience. In such cases, you want to slow down the discipleship process by giving them time and space to open up and speak honestly. This crucial aspect of soul care is something that makes counseling a liability because the counseling process typically has a faster pace.
And don’t forget about the fear of others (Proverbs 29:25). Most Christians have not had an experience with an authentic, caring community, whether it was with their families or their local churches. Open, transparent, honest, non-punitive, redemptive speech is rare for many folks. The outcome of this lack of relational experience is an inhibition for being honest with others.
Like Adam before them, there is a temptation to hide behind fig leaves while struggling with shame, guilt, and fear. They need your love, patience, understanding, and wisdom.
Yes, some folks will lie to you because their motives are impure. I suspect most of the people who withhold the truth are struggling in other ways because of the shaping influences from their pasts. Regardless of the reason, the discipler should be Jesus to all of them.
Counseling can be a lying profession, but it might not be for the reason you’re thinking.
Also published on Medium.