“Ask a Priest: How Can I Overcome a Habit of Lying?”

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Q: I am fighting an ongoing battle with a habitual sin: lying. Since I can remember, I have lied about even the littlest things: to make myself seem more interesting, to engage in conversation … most of the time I do not even know why I do so. I am not sure what to do about it anymore, and I need some spiritual direction. I have recently become very serious about walking the narrow path to Christ through my newfound Catholic faith. But, my habit of lying is getting in the way. I know that it separates me from God, even when it is venial, yet I often feel the need to run to the confessional after I do so. For instance, today, I called out of work and lied to my boss telling her I was ill, just so I could stay home and get things done around the house. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway, because I did not want to suffer. Please, how can I overcome this? Where do I start? A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good to hear that you want to walk the path toward Christ. He is ultimately the only one who can give you happiness; he is the one worth living for.

From what you describe, it sounds as if you are wrestling with the root sin of vanity.

We all have a root sin – be it pride, vanity or sensuality. Most of us wrestle with all three sins, but there is usually one that predominates.

Vanity is basically when we care more about winning the approval of others rather than doing God’s will. Vanity arises from insecurity. We worry whether people will like us, what they think of us, whether they think we are “cool.”

We can end up living on the surface, overly concerned about our appearance, willing to lie to make ourselves look good.

The result is that, deep down, we know that we aren’t being authentic. This feeds the problem, because we end up fearing that nobody would love us if they knew the “real me.” This feeds the insecurity, which in turn feeds the vanity. A vicious cycle.

You might consider four steps to vanquish vanity:

1) Work on purity of intention. That is, try to purify your motives; do the right thing because it pleases God, not because you win get an immediate reward. One way to do that is to treat everyone well, no matter how they respond or no matter how unappealing they are at a human level.

2) A corollary: Learn to see Christ in others, and then love Christ in others. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink” (Matthew 25:35). This is a powerful way to walk the path of Christ, because real love for him translates into love for neighbor.

3) Learn to admit mistakes quickly and humbly. This might be difficult at first, but you will sleep better, knowing that you deal honestly with people. Honesty also will endear you to people — they will love you more, not less, for your humility.

4) Make time for prayer and the sacraments. It would be helpful to make confession a regular part of life. If you can find a good regular confessor, all the better.

There is a deeper step that you want to consider, too. And that is to face the reason for your insecurity.

Here you want to remind yourself that your core identity is that you are a beloved daughter of God. So much loved are you that Jesus was willing to die on a cross for you. That kind of love should satisfy your deepest cravings.

Perhaps spending some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament would help. Being in the presence of Our Lord will help you understand his closeness to you, at all levels.

(For more reading see my article and my colleague Father Bartunek’s article. For a book suggestion, Navigating the Interior Life by Dan Burke would be helpful.)

I hope some of this helps.

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