As a Christian and a person who believes it’s right to try to live in pursuit of holiness and to practise godliness wherever possible, I sometimes find myself experiencing moral dilemmas concerning how to act appropriately in certain situations.
I believe that telling the truth is very important. Sometimes it can be tempting to tell a white lie. When I’m shopping in my local supermarket and the cashier asks me “is it your day off today?” part of me wants to simply reply “yes” and pick up my shopping and be on my way. But I don’t want to lie. The truth is I’m out of work due to health issues and to be true to myself I feel I need to explain this, even in a brief conversation with someone I don’t know.
Why does it matter? Well, in my experience, even little white lies come back to haunt us. What happens when I see the cashier again the following week and she starts to open up a conversation by asking “so, what do you do for a living?”. Either I tell another lie and get myself into deeper trouble, or I have to explain that I was lying the week before. The situation becomes complicated. It’s so much better just to be honest with everyone from the outset and to keep a clear conscience. Speaking the truth means peace of mind.
I do sometimes slip up, and I think sometimes God tests me by putting me in situations where my conscience is tested. The other day I was in a coffee shop ordering an Americano, and as a regular customer I know the price is always £2.55. I saw the price come up on the till as £2.20, and so I figured the barista had made a mistake. I decided to be honest and mentioned that it’s normally £2.55, but he said he realised that but felt like doing me a favour.
For a moment I thought this was a friendly gesture from a barista who I see often and who knows my order. But immediately after I accepted the discount I felt a sense of guilt consume me. All of a sudden I was in two minds – do I go back and pay the difference and explain that it feels morally wrong to take the discount? Or do I accept that the discount was the barista’s responsibility and go happily on my way?
The guy was trying to do me a favour, but by breaking the rules he was causing trouble for me (by testing my conscience) and for himself. What if his manager found out he was discounting certain people’s coffee on a whim? How would the person next in line to me feel about this partiality? What happens the next time I go in for a coffee and he serves me – will he feel obliged to offer the discount every time?
I feel I shouldn’t have accepted the discount, but it all happened so quickly. I feel like I need to be more on my guard in order to keep a clear conscience and know the difference between right and wrong in everyday circumstances and situations.
For some people, telling white lies is an everyday thing, and I don’t know how they live with themselves. For instance, yesterday I was in a pub and there was a man sitting alone near me having a few pints. His phone rang and I heard him explaining to the caller that he was in a meeting. I don’t think I could tell a lie like that in good conscience.
I think that when we tell the truth, good things happen. When I am open with people about my mental health problems it allows for a deeper level of understanding and intimacy with people than if I were to hide the truth or tell a lie. Being honest and vulnerable also has the effect of tackling stigma, as people realise it’s possible for someone to have a mental illness and still be friendly, mature, warm, and intelligent.
Some may argue that accepting a 35 pence discount on my Americano is no big deal. Perhaps it isn’t a big deal, but I am determined to live with a clear conscience and to do all I can to be honest, for my own peace of mind and to ensure I am doing my best to love my neighbour as myself, as Jesus instructed. The next time someone tries to do me a favour in an underhand way, I pray I will act with conscience and do that right thing, not the easy thing.