We encourage students to explore the role of honesty and confession as a discipline in the Way of Jesus. Issues relevant to this topic include: What is the cost of dishonesty? When is it safe to confess? What if the other person doesn’t accept honesty?
“I haven’t told my parents that I use pot. I don’t want them to be mad at me.”
“My abuse can’t be as bad as I’ve made it out to be; I must be making things up.”
“If I tell my family about the abuse, I’ll be the black sheep.”
“I don’t want to date that person, but I can’t say ‘no’.”
Honesty, with God, oneself and others, is a central principle of the Way of Jesus. Secrecy, lies, and avoidance are hallmarks of sin as well as abuse. In cases of abuse, young people may have been punished or ignored if they spoke out regarding their abuse, and thus learned to suppress their truths. When the consequence of telling the truth is greater than that of telling lies it makes sense that one would choose the latter of the two.
Students are therefore encouraged to recognize the cost of dishonesty: It alienates them from others and perpetuates the idea that something about them is unacceptable and must be hidden. (Think Adam and Eve) In contrast honesty is liberating.
The term “honesty” conveys an ideal that goes beyond just expressing one’s views. It is meant to convey integrity, the notion of “owning” one’s experiences, and a spiritual sense of acceptance.
Honesty is a complicated subject, however, as real risks are on the line for the abused student. Honesty needs to be selective. It may not be safe, for example, for a young person to confront their abuser.
One particularly difficult situation is when a student asks the youth worker to hide information from parents or other adults, such as substance abuse. In such scenarios, it is strongly recommended that the youth worker not keep secrets that would further place the student at risk of hurting themselves or others. It usually helps to suggest to the student to try talking honestly with the parents, setting a date by which it would happen (such as a few days). After the specified date, the youth worker then talks with the parents directly to confirm that the information has been shared. Although there may be a risk of the student dropping out of our program, the greater risk is keeping substance abuse secrets on behalf of the student. Not only would this reinforce lying about substance abuse, but it puts the youth worker in the position of being an “enabler” and may at times put other people in jeopardy (i.e., driving while under the influence).
In encouraging students to be honest, a key issue is helping them cope with others’ negative reactions. It helps to view honesty as a positive goal in and of itself, regardless of how the other person feels. This is the Way of Jesus. He routinely spoke truth for the sake of truth and not because He was concerned with how the others would react to it. There will be growth either way: If the person has a positive reaction, the relationship has increased in closeness; if the person has a negative reaction, the student has learned more about the other person and can proceed accordingly. Unfortunately, young people too often take a negative reaction to truth not as information about the other person, but as condemnation of themselves. Preparing for negative reactions is then very important because when we can see that often dishonesty is nothing more than a functional protective skill, developed to keep someone safe from threats, we can move from a place of compassion into the messiness of their world.
Because it can be so difficult for students to be honest, respecting their defenses and locating areas where they are able to make some disclosure is more helpful than trying to convince them reveal when they resist. Thus, if a student cannot be honest in a particular situation we should use this defensive posture as a thermostat for our relationship with that student. Resistance can sometimes, often time, be a gift. It lets us know there is still work to be done to develop a trusting relationship with a hurt and scared student.
If we are fortunate enough to gain their trust, we dare not do anything to lose it. It is a sacred thing when a person allows you entrance into their innermost hurt. We must tread carefully. Take off your shoes because you are walking on holy ground. It is here that we have the opportunity to witness the miracle of Jesus making someone whole again.