High River United Church of High River, Alberta


What is Truth? And How Do We Teach Our Kids to Tell It?

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What is truth? Now that’s an interesting, if not difficult, question in today’s society. Then there is the word “fact,” which should be something that is provable and demonstrable, but again we see the questioning of facts, even in the face of evidence. Fact and opinion used to be opposites, but now it seems that there has become more and more of a fluidity between the two. We have people who, if they do not like a particular fact, declare it as fake. Somehow I always thought that fake and fact were opposites – but it seems, at least to some today, they are not.


We tell our children to tell the truth, but what is truth? In the gospel of John (chapter 8, verse 32), Jesus declares to the disciples, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”   What is this truth that will set us free?


Why is it so hard for children, and even adults, to always tell the truth? Well, there are many factors. Children often don’t tell the truth for very good reasons, very respectable reasons if you think about it. They may be afraid of disappointing their parents or grandparents, or they may be afraid of the consequences. They may be protecting themselves or another person. They may not want to hurt someone’s feelings. They may be mystified why something that felt so right to do at the moment now has become a problem.  


The thing is with children and truth – we expect them to have adult reasoning (and even adults don’t always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.) As we mature (if we mature), we develop mixed feelings, or the ability to temper our words and decisions by holding two or more, sometimes opposing, thoughts at the same time. We can say to ourselves, “I am so frustrated that I want to yell at this person,” at the same time as we say, “I can understand that this may not totally be the person’s fault.” Then we make a choice, after weighing both sides of the situation.


Children under 6 years old can’t do this at all. They can only hold one thought at a time. So they can say, “Mommy, I won’t eat the cookie.” and totally mean it. Then, when Mommy leaves the room and the cookie is still sitting there, the thought about how good the cookie will taste takes over, and they eat it, because they don’t remember (their brain can’t do it) that they said they wouldn’t eat the cookie. They aren’t lying. Their brains just haven’t matured yet.


After age 6, the ability to have mixed feelings gradually develops, but any one of us at any age can lose our mix, when we are hungry or tired or stressed. How many of us adults have eaten that extra cookie (or such) when we knew we shouldn’t have it?


So how do we teach our children to tell the truth, when it currently seems to be a fluid commodity and when we know that they may not have access to the mixed feelings that help them have the maturity to tell the truth.


The essential thing to truth telling is that it happens in an unconditionally loving environment. Our kids need to know that they can tell us anything and we will always love and support them. They need to know that there is nothing that they could say that will stop us from loving them. They need to know that we’ve got their back in dealing with the consequences of something that has gone wrong or some mistake they have made.  


In such a unconditionally loving environment, our kids will want to tell us what happened; it will niggle at them until they tell us the truth. They will want us to know the truth about what they have said or done.   And, as Jesus said, that truth will set them free. They don’t need any further consequence or punishment, though we may need to help them know how to set things right.


Truth is defined as something in accordance with fact or reality, or something that is accepted as certain and factual within a group. Even with these definitions, we can all have different perspectives about truth. We can all be in the same situation and come out with a different understanding of what happened.


Perhaps the question is, especially for today, why is truth important? It is important because it gives us a baseline from which we can all work together. Knowing the truth gives us power to change ourselves or a situation we are facing.


Sometimes truth is hard. Sometimes it is painful and challenging. Sometimes, in the face of the truth, all we can do is cry in futility, that things aren’t the way we want them to be.


Perhaps that is what we really need to offer our children – the understanding that sometimes things aren’t the way we want them, sometimes we don’t get what we want, sometimes there is no way to fix a situation, sometimes all we can do is cry – and then when we have faced the truth of the futility and frustrations of life, we are set free.


Jesus also said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Abundant life, joyful life, hopeful life, comes when we know the truth.


For the truth does set us free – to see life in a new way, to try out new possibilities, to adapt and to learn. But we have to let go first. Maybe the reason that there is a resistance to truth today in some parts of our society, maybe the reason that facts are declared fake, and the declared “truth” is really someone’s made up story – is because there is a holding on to what was and a refusal to adapt to what is.


Yet, as Jesus said, “The truth shall set you free.” With Jesus at our side, with the loving support of the Holy Spirit, we dare to face the truth, and trust that God is working with us through the changes and challenges – the truth of our lives.

November 15, 2018                              ©Susan Lukey 2018



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