First published in the Feb. 17 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
By Rev. Jessica Vaughan Lower
Special to the Tribune
Do you have a tendency to exaggerate stories of your life?
In 2019, researchers Holly Cole and Denise Beike published research about the effect of exaggeration on our relationships. When we exaggerate a story, is it a lie that threatens the bond of trust between people? Or is exaggeration merely a rhetorical tool that has little or no consequence on our friendships?
What Cole and Beike found may not be surprising to you: we love to be deceived, but only a little bit. The overwhelming majority of nearly 600 participants in their multiple studies reported that they felt closer to people who exaggerated their stories, even when the listener knew the unexaggerated facts of the story being retold. It turns out that we tend to prefer a tall tale over the unabashed truth.
But there are exceptions to the rule. It’s one thing to be told a tale about a camping trip where someone swears they saw Bigfoot — it’s another thing entirely to be lied to or gaslit about something that is central to a person’s character or that affects the trajectory of our lives. Sometimes, telling the absolute truth about ourselves is the most important thing we can do. Sometimes, telling the truth on ourselves is the only thing that will save our friendships or relationships when they are faced with a threat.
The person in my life most gifted at telling the truth on herself was actually someone I never met. Pam Franklin was a long haul trucker who died of cancer in her later years. Pam and I didn’t know each other while she was alive, but a friend of hers asked me if I would officiate her memorial service, and that’s when I got to know Pam.
Once a longtime abuser of narcotics and alcohol, Pam had made dozens of questionable decisions in her life, many she wasn’t proud of, but Pam was not known for shirking the truth. A pillar within her recovery community, Pam had a way of telling the truth on herself that inspired others to do the same. She never diminished the harm she had caused others when she was using. She never tried to minimize the profound effects her decisions had made on her life, which eventually left her without family. She didn’t try to soften the hard edges of her life with exaggeration — she just told it as it was. And when the day of her memorial came, more than 100 people arrived to celebrate her life, to honor her by telling the truth on themselves, and to share how her commitment to telling even the hardest truths endeared her to them.
The only request Pam had made about her memorial service was that the congregation hear the entirety of Romans 8. She particularly liked the final verses of that chapter where the Apostle Paul says, “In all [distressful] things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”
Pam wasn’t afraid to tell the absolute truth on herself because she knew that even the worst truths of her life didn’t make her unlovable. And the same goes for you and for me. Whatever hard truth exists in your life that you are tempted to soften by exaggeration, God doesn’t need you to soften in order to love you. God loves you, and there is nothing that can separate you from God’s love.
Lower is rector of San Marino Community Church.