As usual, Mother’s Day this year made me naturally think about my mother more. She’s been gone for 7 years which still doesn’t seem possible. For some reason, recently I remembered a time when I had lied to my mother when I was a little girl. It is the first lie I can remember telling her. The thing is, it was a stupid lie and 49 years later, I’m still not sure why I lied about this particular incident to my mother.
I was 5 years old. I was in the bathroom and I happened to see a mercury thermometer on the back of the commode in its little black case (this was in the early 60s and there were no digital thermometers back then). I was curious about this thermometer. I didn’t know the silver “stuff” inside the thermometer contained toxic mercury. Nor did I know the thermometer was made of glass. I suspected it was made of glass and it sure looked like it would break easily, but I wasn’t sure. I took the thermometer out of its black plastic case. I shook it as I had often seen my mother do when she took my temperature. I had absolutely no idea why she shook that thermometer. Suddenly, I remember getting very curious and I remember wondering if this thermometer would break if I tried snapping it in two (remember, I was five). So I took the thermometer and broke it in half. SNAP! Yep, it was made of glass! Then I became scared. I had just broken what was probably my mother’s only thermometer. I decided it best to hide the evidence and wrapped the two broken pieces of the thermometer in toilet paper and hid it in the trash can. I still don’t recall to this day if I cleaned up the spilled mercury or where that mercury went (scary).
I don’t know how long it was before my mother noticed the empty thermometer case but I don’t recall it being very long. I do remember her asking me about it though and if I had any idea what had happened to the thermometer. I lied and told her I hadn’t a clue. And I remember feeling very guilty because I had just lied to my mother and I knew that lying was wrong. I was five years old but old enough to know that lying to your mother is not a good thing. I can still remember the burning shame I felt when my mother turned from me and walked out of the room after me telling her I didn’t know a thing about that ole thermometer.
I think I was in my twenties when one day I brought up the thermometer incident to my mother. Of course she did not even remember a missing thermometer. So I refreshed her memory and confessed that I had intentionally broken the thermometer when I was five years old (because I was curious to see if I could break it). My mother laughed a puzzled laugh and asked why in the world I had lied to her about a thing like that. I told her I supposed I was afraid she would be mad at me if I told her I had broken it. I was afraid I would get into trouble. Who knows really why a five-year old does the things they sometimes do?
My mother always stressed the importance of honesty to my sisters and me when we were growing up. I remember vividly her telling us the fable of the boy who cried wolf. I still remember how she emphasized that the moral of the fable was that if you are dishonest and make it a habit to lie, that eventually people will lose respect for you and never believe you, even when you tell the truth. “Always tell the truth,” my mother told us. She told us that even lying about little things was wrong. And if I lied about little things, no one would believe me when it came to bigger things.
My mother stressed that integrity needed to be valued and that if we tried hard to live a life of integrity, that eventually telling the truth would become a habit– a habit that makes God happy. Leading an honest life is not always the easiest way, but it is always the right way. Have you ever heard the saying, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching?” What’s the difference in Integrity and Honesty? I think this quote by Spencer Johnson explains it perfectly.
Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.
After my mother passed away and my sisters and I were cleaning out her house and belongings, I came across that old black plastic thermometer case while going through the bathroom closet. I kept that black case. It’s in my medicine cabinet where it will stay. There’s a lesson in it for me every time I look at it. Yes, a lesson even for this grown 54-year-old woman.
I read once that Integrity is the key to living an authentic life. Jesus is pure truth and light. And the light of Jesus in our lives will guide us on the path of life. His truth is always available to us. All we have to do is call on Him and He will show us the way.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32