To Live Freely: Part Nine

Turning Inward)

I have spent the past while examining the principle of truthfulness in broad strokes. I have explored why it is a moral ideal, and why it is beneficial to society as a whole. But people are brought into alignment with truth on an individual basis, and one of the first truths that we must resolve ourselves to is the truth of who we are. Given that, I am going to shift gears with the rest of this series to examine truth within the self.

And the fact is, probably very few readers had any disagreement with my thesis at the beginning of this series. You probably agreed that only a life founded on truth is truly free. This is the sort of statement that we hear and nod along to without a second thought. Something inside of us just intuitively knows that this is the case.

And yet…if we get truly honest, none of us live in accordance with this principle perfectly, and few of us even try. We say that embracing the hard truths is essential for a stable and thriving life, but then we shirk those hard truths at every turn. We preach principles that we do not abide by and renounce the very behaviors that we do. Lying, cheating, and stealing, though we aver it is wrong to lie, cheat, and steal. We try to hide these shameful behaviors from the world. We try to hide them from ourselves, looking for a distraction any time our conscience tries to show us what we are doing. And then, when a light does manage to shine upon our wrongs we make excuses, brushing them off as inconsequential or permitted due to our circumstance. In short, we are hypocrites all!

The Part That Resonates)

So why do we so readily agree with the statement that we should all live in truth?! Why do we have such an immediate agreement to something in principle, but then a reluctance to agree with it in our practice? I see this phenomenon as the clearest evidence that people are divided beings. Every individual has two parts hidden within, and though they belong to the same person, those parts don’t agree with one another at all.

I feel this dual nature is what Paul was speaking to when he famously wrote “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (Romans 7:15). There is a very real part of us that recognizes and responds to truth. That part is most manifest when we hear a nugget of pure wisdom and we intuitively know that it is right, not even requiring any sort of proof. That part of us just knows what is true and it wants to live in harmony with that truth.

But then there is another part that doesn’t fully believe in this concept. Part of us believes that even if truth is the fundamental foundation of the world as a whole, that it can still cheat that system. It thinks that it can fool the world into giving us what we want.

Of course, these two sides are at complete odds to one another. On the one hand we believe that adherence to the truth is the principle by which we obtain all that we desire, on the other hand we also think we can get what we want by trespassing that very same principle.

Getting Curious)

The part of you that thinks you can prosper by denying your conscience doesn’t like to be examined. When asked why we do the things that we know are wrong, why we advocate for behaviors but then don’t follow them, we tend to squirm beneath the light and try to wriggle away.

But if you are ever to overcome these baser instincts, you’ve got to start taking them head-on. An excellent first step would be to acknowledge that you do exactly the hypocritical sort of behavior that we’ve been examining, and then meditate as to why you do it. Without judgment, ask yourself “why do I think truth is fundamental to happiness, but still shirk from the truth in these certain areas of my life?” At some point we must all contemplate why we do the things that we do. At some point we have got to own up to our inconsistencies. For simply acknowledging our own untruthfulness is the first step towards becoming truthful.

Solemnity and Joy- Matthew 6:16-18

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

COMMENTARY

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance
Yesterday I looked at examples of inappropriate levity, and today we consider inappropriate solemnity. Already in this study we have considered Jesus approving Mary and his disciples for joying in his presence, even though there were others that were calling for a more serious attitude.
But in today’s verses Jesus discusses another situation. He mentions a time when it is totally appropriate to be solemn, such as when fasting, but how it is hypocritical to exaggerate one’s solemn demeanor for everyone else to see. The fact is some of us get the mentality that being somber is better than being happy, so we strive to show as much somberness as we possibly can.
I’m sure all of us can recall times that we or others became extremely pious, not for God’s sake, but for the sake of our fellow worshippers. We wanted their admiration, we wanted them to appreciate how serious we were in the cause of right. “Holier than thou” moments are not the only example of this, either. Even outside of religious circles we often bemoan how busy we are with so much duty and work and responsibility, looking for a pat on the back for carrying so much burden. In our society it is often seen as a virtue to be overworked and overstressed.
I’ve been guilty of these exaggerated displays of solemnity myself. As a general rule, I try remind myself that if I am sad, it is okay to be sad, and if I am solemn, it is okay to be solemn, and if someone asks me about these troubles I can speak of them honestly…..But, if I am exaggerating my outward expression of sadness and solemnity for the express purpose of gaining the attention of others, then I am passive aggressive, and I am treating emotions as a currency, something we don’t ever want to do.