But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
James 5:12

Chronic lying is a horrible task-master. You start with simple embellishments and exaggerations but soon find yourself wondering which version of the story you used with which audience and finally end up questioning your own memories as truth and fiction blur into an inseparable reality. Making a decision to be honor-bound to the truth is great but it does not come easily for someone steeped in fantasy. And walking a fresh path of honesty does not mean your imagined past won’t still impact you in terrible ways.

Asher was sitting at our counter watching me cook dinner when Joseph heard one of our other children comment on the level of the river. (Our area received unprecedented rain this spring and the snowmelt is still coming with a vengeance. We may well be close to flood levels for the whole of summer.) Joseph is always quick to remind the kids that the river is not a safe place to be without supervision and this season especially so. In pure innocence, Olivia asked if the river was deep enough for someone to jump from the bridge without hurting themselves.

My eyes shot from Joseph to Asher in a heartbeat.

Even as my heart raced and my mind immediately recalled the day Asher shared with us his attempted suicide, I was struck by an odd expression on Asher’s face. Joseph was, too.

My husband made a quick comment to Olivia that reiterated the need for caution around the river and then beckoned to Asher for support. “The river can hurt you very quickly. Isn’t that right, Asher?”

Again, that odd expression.

“I guess,” he shrugged.

“You guess? I would imagine you can do more than that,” Joseph responded. “You, of all people, understand how the river can hurt you.”

This time, the expression was unmistakable. I put down my knife and turned to face Asher full in the face. “Did you or did you not try to hurt yourself in the river?”

“No, I didn’t.”

What!? “Have you ever tried to harm yourself other than for attention?”

“No, I haven’t.”

His answers were small and he looked down with obvious embarrassment. I was beyond words and needed to leave the room immediately. My whole body shook with anger, and a terrible rage at the pain and manipulation our son has put us through coursed through my body. All I could think was that I was a complete idiot and I had no way of knowing if he was playing me for a fool even now.

Asher went into his room and quietly closed the door while I paced the floor in my own bedroom. Joseph came in to check on me and I unleashed a torrent of bitter thoughts and feelings. My dear husband pulled me to himself and held me while I wept without restraint. I kept uttering the same thing over and over, “Is any of it true?”

Once I calmed down, I went into Asher’s room to work through some of my feelings. I needed to know that my son had grown enough to manage the consequences of his actions and that I didn’t need to shield him from all my emotions the way I did in the beginning of this mess. I also wanted the reassurance that he was ready to be more concerned about the pain he caused others than the discomfort he was currently experiencing.

“I am really struggling with feeling like the ground is always shaking under my feet with you. I’m afraid that I will never hit bedrock and that a true relationship with you is impossible because you refuse to be truthful.”

“I made a vow to be honest when I got home from JCF. I didn’t want to tell you about the lie. I wanted to pretend the story was true. But I knew I couldn’t do that. I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do to go back and make it better. Is there anything I can do now?”

“No, Asher. There isn’t. And that’s the problem with lying.” I was silent for several seconds while I replayed the visit in my mind of that horrible day when we thought our son was sharing the heartbreaking reality that he had tried to commit suicide. “The thing that is especially hard for me is that that story, at that time, was something I believed finally showed us that you had some humanity in you. For so long, we questioned whether you were even able to understand the consequences of your own decisions let alone feel remorse for them. But the idea of you being so broken over what you were doing that you were willing to end your own life made me feel like there was hope in your empathy after all. Now, learning that it was a lie and you were simply using another tactic of emotional manipulation, I am left feeling raw and exposed. And very angry.”

“I understand.”

“Are you going to continue telling the truth? Even if more situations like this one arise?”

“Yes. I made a commitment.”

We are given two paid polygraphs by the state for Asher during his probation. The first is administered at the 3-month mark and the second at the 6-month mark. We are just at two weeks home so we have many more weeks to go before we can see, empirically, whether Asher is being honest or not. It is a difficult wait-and-see game for everyone. Asher wants us to believe him and we need something more than his word -because seriously, what is that worth right now?

I only have two options before me. I can continue to doubt every word that my son says and drive myself (and my family) a little crazy. Or I can remember that I am ultimately in God’s hands and even if my son is lying through his teeth about everything, we are surrounded by Christ’s steadfast love.

By the grace of God, I am choosing the second. And I am praying that the weeks before Asher’s first polygraph go quickly.