Honesty in the Small Things

“Honesty in the Small Things,” Ensign, Sept. 2003, 28

Honesty in the Small Things

If we rationalize committing small acts of dishonesty, it becomes easier to commit progressively larger sins.

Not long ago, a friend told me he had learned after a routine checkup that he had cancer. He had felt nothing different in his body—no pain, no perceptible indication of the disease. Fortunately, the cancer was discovered early, and he started treatment immediately, which increased his chance of survival. My friend recommended that I have a similar checkup. He concluded that these regular checkups could mean the difference between a short and a long life.

I left that conversation wondering how I would feel upon discovering there was something within me capable of taking my life, particularly if I did not take immediate action. I certainly would not scrimp on my efforts to address the problem as soon as I could. I would seek out the best doctors and hospitals available to me. I cannot imagine that anyone, knowing they were sick, would not do everything within their power to seek a cure.

By the same token, there are cancers of a spiritual nature that, if discovered early, are more easily cured. Yet if allowed to fester, they have the potential of destroying us spiritually. One of these spiritual cancers is dishonesty.

The scriptures contain numerous exhortations to be honest. The Savior declared, “All among them who know their hearts are honest … are accepted of me” (D&C 97:8). Jacob said, “Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell” (2 Ne. 9:34). Ecclesiastes 5:4–5 tells us we should honor our obligations: “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”

The Apostle Peter taught the Saints that they should be honest in conversation (see 1 Pet. 2:12). King Benjamin, in his wonderful discourse to the Nephite people, taught that “whosoever among you borroweth of his neighbor should return the thing that he borroweth, according as he doth agree” (Mosiah 4:28). And many of us are familiar with the 13th article of faith, which says, in part, “We believe in being honest.”

Scriptural teachings on honesty are clear, but unfortunately the world seems to be much more flexible. The world even classifies people according to different levels of honesty. Sometimes we hear of people who are “very” honest, “mostly” honest, or even “a little” honest.

Should we even use modifiers with the word honest? I don’t believe so. There are no degrees of honesty. Either we are honest or we aren’t. It is the same with cancer. Either we have the disease or we don’t.

Many people rationalize committing “small” acts of dishonesty such as keeping extra change they receive in the grocery store, taking home supplies from the workplace, being less than accurate on tax returns, disobeying copyright laws, and so on. Yet even so-called small errors need to be eradicated from our lives, for anytime we are dishonest, we are breaking one of the Lord’s commandments. And as the scriptures tell us, “there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God” (1 Ne. 15:34).

After an individual is diagnosed with cancer, what foolishness it would be for him or her to say: “It doesn’t hurt yet, and it doesn’t interfere with anything. I’ll just live with it. I’ve never needed a doctor before. Surely the cancer will disappear by itself.” Similarly, it would be great foolishness to ignore a problem with dishonesty, even if it is seemingly small now. As we rationalize committing small acts of dishonesty, the problem worsens, and it becomes easier to commit progressively larger sins.

The good news in relation to spiritual cancers is that, contrary to their fleshy counterparts, all of them can be cured before they cause our spiritual death. Recognizing them is the first step to returning to full spiritual health.

My friend’s advice is vital, even in our spiritual lives: we need to conduct regular spiritual checkups on ourselves to determine the areas in which we need to improve.

Usually we perceive these small failings with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Occasionally others around us will warn us about things we need to change. In any case, we need to listen carefully to what is being pointed out to us by the Spirit, Church leaders, loved ones, coworkers, and friends. And if we are humble, we can overcome these difficulties, for as the Lord told Moroni, “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

Therefore, when our spiritual health checkup detects even small acts of dishonesty, we need to immediately seek healing through sincere repentance. We should confess to Heavenly Father the error committed, promise to change, seek His help in doing so, and ask for sincere forgiveness. If the error requires some restitution, we must do that. And if our problem is serious, we may also need to confess to our bishop and humbly follow his inspired counsel.

To those who confess their sins and totally abandon them, the Lord promises a complete cure with His forgiveness, and He remembers their sins no more (see D&C 58:42–43). How wonderful it would be if all types of cancer could be cured so miraculously.

When we learn to be honest in the little things, we acquire spiritual strength and increased confidence. It becomes easier to be honest in the “big” things. And if we are honest in our battles of life, we can become like the 2,000 Lamanite stripling warriors, who “did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them” (Alma 57:21).

How grateful I am for the guidance of the Holy Ghost and the counsel in the scriptures on honesty. As we remain vigilant in our quest to be honest, we will not have to worry that the spiritual cancer of dishonesty is growing inside our spirits.

Let’s Talk about It

  1. Show a few medical items such as pills, rubbing alcohol, and bandages. Ask family members to name some minor illnesses and explain why they think they are minor. What are some major illnesses, and why are they major? Search this article for reasons dishonesty is like cancer. Search the scriptures (using the Topical Guide) and the hymnbook (using the topics index) for scriptures and songs about honesty. Share what you find. Tell about a time when you were blessed for being honest.

  2. Conduct your own family honesty checkup. Have family members find the list of “small” acts of dishonesty in this article. Invite them to add and discuss other actions that could be on the list. Read together the last six paragraphs of this article. Bear your testimony of the importance of being honest.

Photographs by Kelly Larsen