When I was a boy, about ten years old, my now-deceased father taught me a very valuable lesson: carrying the ever-increasing burden of a lie, which always seems to require more lying to avoid the consequences of the initial lie, is much, much harder than just telling the truth, no matter how difficult that may be.
From time to time, I would go to the school office on various errands. While there, I discovered a supply of Wite-Out. I do not remember the order of events, but, at some stage, I learned that Wite-Out acts almost like acid when poured on Styrofoam. At the time, I enjoyed playing with my toy soldiers — G.I. Joe figures and their bending joints had superseded the less-flexible Star Wars figures, of which I had many. Occasionally, I would play with them in the bathtub. Well, a boy cannot create a genuine battle without some kind of fort, so I made use of some Styrofoam that had served as packaging for some household item. When I learned the effect of Wite-Out upon Styrofoam, I thought it was rather exciting stuff. Having never even thought about asking my dad if he might be able to buy me some Wite-Out, or bring me some home from his office, I stole a few bottles from the school office. Making matters immeasurably worse, I thought it would be really neat if I removed the limbs from some of the Star Wars figures that my father had bought me. I stuck the limbs in the Styrofoam which I had rendered “battle-scarred” by means of the Wite-Out.
To make a long story a little shorter, my dad found out about my little stunt. Although he did not like seeing me dismember the toys he had paid for, he was much more unhappy when he learned that I had stolen the Wite-Out and lied about it when initially questioned. After all these years, I cannot even remember what other lies I told, but I know I told a couple or a few more to cover up the initial lie. Eventually, my dad decided to address the entire mess and help me get things going in the right direction again.
My father was a lawyer in the US Navy; he was part of the Judge Advocate General’s office. He had also done six six-month tours in Vietnam, some of them working for Naval Intelligence. He was a rather intelligent man whose life experiences were, as far as I know and can tell, quite varied; however, I did not get to know him nearly as well as I wish I had. Over the years, he had seen and worked with more liars than most. He never told me that he knew from the beginning that I was lying, but it seems morally certain to me now.
I do not recall how long this entire episode lasted, but, at some stage, my father sat me down to have a little talk, about life and about lying. He has been dead for over 17 years now, but in my mind I can still see his face, hear his voice, and even smell his familiar scent. He talked to me about how lying is like carrying a sack of rocks. One lie inevitably leads to another, and another, and another, until the burden grows as unbearable as a sack full of rocks. He was absolutely right; I had grown tired from the ever-increasing burden of lying to cover previous lies, all of which he saw through anyway.
Because my dad died so young — he was 51 — and he suffered rather notably from the psychological and spiritual effects of his time in Vietnam, I did not get to know him as well as I now wish I had and I do not have a great number of memories of him. That said, the lesson he taught me about the ever-increasing burden produced by willful wrongdoing, which applies to far more than just lying, has remained with me ever since.
My dad was no saint, but he was my father and I love him dearly. He was but one of many poor souls who got chewed up and spit out by the very machine that is now entering its final hours. He made some mistakes, to be sure, but he also provided a reasonably good life for his family despite many obstacles and much interior anguish. Although I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was raised without knowledge or experience of many of the horrors with which I have since become familiar, whether directly or indirectly.
Doing the wrong thing always seems expedient at the time and, quite often, it is immeasurably easier than doing the right thing. That said, there is always a price to be paid. The short-term price of doing the right thing is, or at least seems higher than the short-term price of doing the wrong thing. Leaving that illusion aside, there is absolutely no doubt about which costs us more in the long run.
In the spiritual life, our real and essential life, there is only one thing that is absolutely necessary: putting God before all else. This does not mean we act as if others do not exist or need our assistance from time to time. On the contrary, drawing closer to God enables us both to conduct our own affairs with an ease and profitability that we otherwise cannot achieve and, simultaneously, to be of much greater real help to our neighbors. Principally, of course, putting God first means that we do not give any mere creature access to the deepest recesses of our heart. This sacred place is for God alone.
“Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.”
While this clearly applies to eternity, it also has an application within this life. When our heart is clean, our intellectual and spiritual vision is clarified, elevated, perfected. As our vision improves, we begin to see God’s presence and activity within all the events of our life. If we leave our heart in a disordered state, it only grows more and more disordered. Just as lying produces a spiritual sack of rocks — also known as a burdened conscience — neglecting to examine and purify our heart produces an ever-increasing, spiritual burden that blinds us to the truth about ourselves and to God’s presence and ceaseless, beneficent activity.
“Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”