How Big Was That Fish Again?

John Steinbeck wrote of his first visit to Montana, “It seems to me that Montana is a great splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda. Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”

I’ve never been to Montana, but I still laughed after I read that last sentence. Having known and heard many Texans – my father’s family is from Texas, so I guess I’m even half Texan myself – and having driven across Texas a couple of times, I know that for many of the people who live in Texas, the fish in the story is much bigger than the one they caught. Texans, like many people, are quite given to exaggeration. Some years ago, Chantelle and I drove through Shallowater, TX, and the sign that greets you says beneath the town name, “Where Pride Runs Deep.” I told my wife, “I’m not sure there’s anywhere in Texas where pride doesn’t run deep.”

There’s nothing wrong with having a healthy degree of pride for your hometown, state, or country. There’s also nothing wrong with a bit of exaggeration when we are joking about something. However, we have to be careful that exaggeration is understood by our listeners to be what it is, and that when pressed we don’t hold on to the fish in our story rather than the one in our freezer.

Ananias and Sapphira once exaggerated about the amount of money they had given to the church (Acts 5:1-11). They wanted people to believe that they had sold a piece of property and had given all the proceeds to the church, because they liked the way that made them look. The fact of the matter was though that they had only given part of what they had received to the church and had kept back the rest. It was their right to give all or none of that money to the church, but saying they had given all when they had in fact only given some made them guilty of lying to God (v. 4).

Exaggeration can make its way into many aspects of our lives if we are not careful. It happens when we say things to make people think that we have done more, given more, and had more done to us that what has really happened. A simple rule of thumb is always to apply what our Lord Jesus Christ said, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,' and your ‘No,' ‘No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:17).

So the next time someone asks you, “How big was that fish again?” be sure to bring your hands in a couple of feet, even if you caught it in Texas.  
-Patrick Swayne