Just over one year ago, Lance Armstrong admitted, on national television, that he had been doping his blood and using illegal drugs to enhance his ability as a world-class cyclist. Winner of 7 Tour de France races after he conquered cancer, Lance was an icon to millions of cancer patients and he gave hope to everyone who had great odds to overcome. And he was a liar.
He lied to people for over a decade. He denied using drugs. He swore that he never doped. He threw teammates under the bus who were calling him out and he looked people right in the eye and said, “I’m the real deal.” I believed him, and I was one of the many who defended him when the evidence was mounting. (Read my post, “I Believed Lance”)
Today, Lance is a man who has been humbled. Over half of his assets have been lost in law suits, and there is more legal action pending. Some forecasters estimate that by losing all of his endorsements, he’s given away $150 million in future income. He’s banned from races, even charity events, and no one is calling or asking for interviews. Because he lied, Lance is at rock bottom.
As I thought about Lance last year, and now again today as a reporter gave me the latest update on Lance’s life, I realize that he and I have a lot in common. Like Lance, I’m a liar. In fact, I’m willing to be that most of the people who were mad at him, most of the people who cursed him out on social media, who made jokes with him as the punch line, who looked down their noses at his incredible gall are in the same boat; they’re liars, too.
I was in college when I realized how big of a liar I was. After my freshman year of school, I ran into my old principal during a visit to the high school where I graduated. We talked for a while and then he asked if I would come back in September and talk to the students at a special event he was trying to put on. He didn’t think he had any money to fly me back (since I would be back in school for the fall semester) but he’d check on it. I told him I’d love to speak, and left it at that.
Traci and I were dating at the time, so I told her I had been invited back to speak, and since she was going to be in Salem going to school, we could celebrate her September birthday together. Well, mid-way through the summer I found out that there was, as my principal had suggested, no money available for me to fly back. As a result, the speaking gig was cancelled.
I was determined, however, to be back for Traci’s birthday, so I continue to tell people I was speaking. At the time, I was just learning how to speak publicly and I loved the idea that someone would fly me somewhere to speak. So on a personal credit card, I booked a flight home, and to cover up my true motives (spending time with Traci and making her birthday extra special), insisted that I was speaking at this event at my high school.
For some reason, the idea of me coming back to speak at my high school caught fire with my friends and even a few family members. Suddenly people were getting excited for me and many were asking about the dates etc… My little lie was gaining traction and I was finding myself having to tell more lies, to cover up my first lie. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “If you’re going to be a liar, you’re going to need a very good memory” (or something like that) and he was right! I was having a hard time keeping my lies straight.
About three weeks after my semester started, my youth pastor called me at school and exposed my bluff. I played coy at first, pretending like everything was a go as he gave me a chance to come clean on my own, but then he laid his trap and I was caught. He had run into one of the school counselors and mentioned to him how excited he was that I was a keynote speaker for the upcoming event, and the counselor returned a puzzled look. The two men talked and it turned out the event had never been scheduled — it was just an idea that my principal dropped on me that I ran with. I wasn’t even smart enough to see if the event was still going when I started my lies!
After an hour-long call with my youth pastor, I called my dad and told him the truth. As a wise man, he knew things weren’t quite adding up and he actually went to my youth pastor to see if he knew anything. The two of them knew I was lying and my youth pastor wanted the chance to help me learn from this. I was humbled to talk to my dad, and then my mom and then to call a bunch of other friends and family to whom I’d lied. It was one of those low points in life that you hope you never have to experience again.
I know people were mad at Lance because he used his lies to profit. While he did raise hundreds of millions for charity, he also gained such fame and popularity that he became a super valuable spokesman. But the result of his lies don’t make his lies “worse”. The reality is that a lie is bad because it’s a lie, not because of the degree to which we lie. The consequences for various lies may be more severe than for others, but that does’t make a lie any more evil.
It’s hard work telling the truth all the time. One of my children loves to answer questions as precisely as possible, so that she doesn’t have to reveal all the facts. If you ask, “Have you finished all your homework?” she is likely to respond with a “Yes.” After a few more question we learn that she has to study for a test, but since we didn’t ask about studying, she didn’t feel obliged to reveal that answer. We’ve worked hard with her to help her understand that withholding truth is just like lying, though she wants to insist she is a young woman of integrity. For her, the problem is that telling the truth means more studying, more time doing what she doesn’t want to do. Telling the truth will require more work.
I’d love to tell you that the last lie I told was in college. But that too, would be a lie. Maybe I withheld the truth. Maybe I didn’t keep a commitment I promised to keep. Maybe I let someone down so I lied to cover up my shortcoming or absentmindedness. The fact is, I’m a liar. As much as I wanted to be indignant with Lance, he and I share the same heritage of integrity (or lack thereof).
In Ephesians 4, Paul writes this plain instruction for us: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor…” In other words, “quit lying!” Living the Overboard Life demands an integrity that comes from working hard to be a person of honesty. Lying is easy, but speaking the truth in every situation is hard work and often requires humility (when we’ve been wrong), grace (when we’ve been wronged) and effort (when the truth will require more work from us). But the truth is always worth it.
Just this morning I was reading about Lance’s life. He has hit rock bottom, but in his words, “I’ve never been better.” Life is hard for him, as everything that once defined his life has been stripped away. But he has his family, and he is moving forward with this new challenge. The interviewer, a man who followed Lance’s career for a long time, and who frequently defended the man and was personally hurt by Lance’s admission, said Lance had never looked so good as he did the day they met for the interview. The burden of the lie was lifted, and Lance has discovered that the hard work of integrity is an easier weight to carry.
Are you carrying around some lies you need to release? Are you trusting the truth to set you free? Dishonesty is a prison. Live with integrity and with truth, and you’ll find walking on water is easier without the extra weight!
go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!