“Make sure she explains this to you” was written on the post it note. My student had lied straight to my face and now her grandmother was telling me to hold her accountable. Yet, something didn’t sit right in my gut. This needed to be done a different way.
I cheated on a Music Memory test in 3rd grade music class once. I felt so guilty that I confessed my heinous act to my music teacher one day after school. I was scared and full of shame. Would she be forever disappointed in me? After I apologized, she just cried. She hugged me and told me that she was proud of me for owning it. She had nothing but grace for me. She said she would have to disqualify me from the music memory contest, but that she was forgave me and hoped more students would be honest like me. I remember that moment so vividly.
Dori walked into the practice room with a pleasant smile on her face. After morning greetings to one another, I asked her if her grandmother remembered to send payment as it was the start of a new month. She hesitated, her eyes shifted, and she told me that she was going to have to quit her lessons due to financial difficulties.
While saddened, I understood and told her to let me know if anything in their financial situation changes because I would love to start up lessons again pending availability.
I sensed no dishonesty at the time, but come to find out through some communication with her grandmother, Dori had lied to me (not her real name). The truth was that she didn’t like voice lessons, but didn’t want to hurt my feelings by saying so. I could understand her fear regarding telling me that she didn’t like lessons. I could also understand that voice lessons aren’t for everyone and I as the instructor am not for everyone. Her grandmother had mentioned that Dori had been lying about a lot of things and it was something they were working very hard on at home and in therapy. Within a couple weeks, I would come to stumble upon a couple more lies from Dori that confirmed its habitual nature.
One day I received an envelop with the remaining payment that was due for Dori’s lessons. Long story short, more lies had circled around me supposedly having received this payment when I had not. Attached to the check was a post it note from her grandmother saying “Make sure Dori explains this to you.”
My gut felt uncomfortable when I read these words…”make sure she explains this to you.” I could understand the goal of her grandmother’s wishes – hold Dori accountable, provide her the opportunity to own her lie to me and apologize for it. These are good things. Yet, I was confronted with some time constraints being that I am paid to be teaching other private students during her class period and don’t have time to have a heart to heart with her. Approaching her at the start of class, pulling her aside with only a brief moment to say “I know you lied to me”, and asking her to explain herself just spelled humiliation and shaming to me – not the goal.
On the other hand, sitting down with her, exhibiting care and fostering connection, then gently telling her that I know she has been dishonest with me would provide a space for her to tell me why she lied …or possibly give me the finger (we’re talking about hormonal adolescents – anything’s possible). And the why would probably be more for her than for me. She needs to reflect and understand why she lies. And it would give me the space to hopefully throw out some wisdom dust from above, and tell her “I forgive you and I want you to be free of any shame.”
And to be clear, forgiveness doesn’t mean what one has done is ok, or that there are no consequences to one’s faulty actions, but rather that I am not going to throw shame at you and withhold love from you – maybe draw boundaries – but that’s another topic for another time.
I couldn’t see when that kind of heart to heart would be possible given my limited availability while on campus. So initially, I did nothing.
Each week that I came to her school and saw her chatting with her friends on the choir risers, I felt like something needed to be done, or said, or offered to her. Another part of me thought, “Nah, I doubt anything I say would have that much of a meaningful impact.”
One day as I was waiting on a student to find her music for her lesson (Ugg, why can’t adolescents just be organized? ha!), Dori intentionally looked at me, waved and smiled. It was odd. She had often avoided eye contact with me since she quit lessons. In that moment, I knew that the idea I had been toying with was where I needed to go with Dori. Clearly, I like writing, so I wrote her a letter.
I won’t share the entirety of the letter here – I’m wordy and it was kind of long – but here are some pieces:
…I wanted to write you this letter to first let you know that I completely forgive you. I hold nothing against you :). While I did not receive an apology from you for your dishonesty, my forgiveness towards you is not dependent on that. And I want you see this – sometimes someone will wrong you and owe you an apology, but you will never receive it – even so, forgive others, because holding onto unforgiveness will only hurt you.
I also wanted to let you know a few things I have learned about lying (cause I’ve done it too), and I hope to provide some encouragement to you as well. People lie for many reasons and the root cause of a lie can stem from anything from fear to selfishness to pride, etc. – I believe that people often times lie because they are afraid of something and the lie looks as though it will protect them. Lying often times stems from fear, and fear can trap a person. For example, you were afraid of hurting my feelings or possibly making me upset with you, so you were dishonest. P.S. – my feelings are not hurt and I’m not upset with you – the reality is, not everyone likes voice lessons, and that’s OK!…
I went on to tell her about a friend of mine who had a habitual problem with lying:
…deep down, my friend just wanted people to like her, to love her, to think she was enough, so she made up lies all the time that she thought would make her more worthy of love. Her lies came from a place of fear – she feared not being enough, so she lied to make herself look better. She probably also lied in order to keep from getting into trouble about things she shouldn’t have been doing. So again, her lies came from a fear of being caught; being caught in her shame.
And I finished with these words:
…I share this with you because I want you to be free. Free from fear of what others may think. Free from fear of not being enough. Free from needing to impress others. Free from dishonesty. Free from any selfishness because it is self destructing in the end. Walking in honesty is a harder path, but it is the path that leads to joy, freedom, healthier relationships, and peace. It really is the better way. Honesty shows respect and love towards others and we all need and want that from one another.
I hope you know that you are enough just the way you are. I believe that you were created with intention and for a purpose. I have deep spiritual faith that has helped me understand these truths. You are valuable, You are worthy of love. If you feel the need to lie, stop right there and remind yourself that lying will only trap you in its ugly web, while honesty will set you free. Let go of lies and embrace honesty. It will lead to better things…
I don’t know how she took it all. I handed her the note at the beginning of class one day and since then she has not approached me. That is ok. If it went in one ear and out the other, then I pray that one day she will stumble upon the letter again, read it, and let it soak in.
I don’t know if this was the best approach for Dori. One day I may be a parent of an adolescent and view this whole situation through a different lens. My wisdom dust may be sprinkled in an entirely different way – “Dori, get over here. You owe me an apology. Think before you speak and quit the lyin’ cause it ain’t serving you or anyone else anything worthwhile!” The end. Apparently, my older self sprinkles wisdom with directness and a southern flair.
I hope Dori will remember the day she received my letter, not for my benefit or recognition, but for her well-being. Any wisdom to be found in it comes from above. And may any misguided attempts at wisdom be overlooked or forgotten.
This young girl’s real name means victory. I’m gonna claim that over her life. May victory be yours, dear Dori, because the Father of Lights gives victory for all His children.