"Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."
That's for sure, Mark Twain.
I've never been to "da Nile" in Egypt, but I have certainly come to see that denial has been a place I've not only visited, but a place where I have climbed in my canoe and been happy to float along.
When we want life to look a certain way, we can convince ourselves that it does. When yellow flags or even red flags raise up and wave, we can find ways to overlook them, excuse them and dismiss them. In order for life to go on as normal, we can choose to ignore the colors flapping wildly right in front of us.
Often, we try to put a good or godly spin on the reason we remain in denial. In a quest to move on, we can even think that we have handled it correctly when we try to push it out of our minds. We can think that we have dealt with it.
"It's no big deal."
"God has forgiven me so it is over and done."
"It won't happen again."
"It's just my personality."
When in regards to sinful patterns in others that we do not want to acknowledge , we may have thoughts like "love covers a multitude of sins" or "loving well means to forgive and move on." And, of course, those are good and true statements. However, knowing what love and forgiviness look like is a little more nuanced than we would like.
It's tempting to let our desire for things to seem right and normal to keep us moving along quickly. We know if we stop and name and acknowledge and face sin, it could get messy. It could open up the door of shame.
We would rather just keep moving along in the busy-ness of life.
But we need to heed the stop signs if we want healing to take place.
True love and true forgiveness require taking a hard look at honesty first. We have to wake up from any delusions and recognize the truth, no matter how brutal that can seem.
Christ-like love doesn't mean glossing over the negative in order to focus on the positive.
It doesn't equal pretending that everything is okay.
It does not mean coming up with an alternative narrative to try to make things look better.
Delusions, whether about ourselves or others, are not helpful.
If we turn to the easiest way to deal with something rather than the healthiest way, we are actually not loving ourselves or others well.
I have been guilty of thinking that I have handled something in a godly way when, truth be told, I have chosen the easier way. I've wanted to move on without looking truly looking at the ugliness of a situation, or perhaps, the ugliness of my own heart.
After all, it is a lot more pleasant to picture yourself calmly floating down a river rather admitting that you are caught in a current you can't seem to get out of.
There's a famous idiom about denial that refers to burying your head in the sand. It's based on the idea that ostriches hang down their long necks and hide their heads in the sand when a predator is coming towards them. Similar to a toddler playing hide-and-seek, the idea is that you think you cannot be seen but in reality you are not hidden at all.
It's an image that shows us the potential damage denial can do. An apt illustration to remind us that denial could cost us our lives to the one seeking to steal, kill and devour.
(Although this visual does help, I must say that ostriches have been given a bad rap about this. They are actually using their beaks to turn their eggs in the sand and not denying their reality. Poor ostriches!)
I appreciate these Dan Allender and Tremper Longman quotes from their book In the Cry of the Soul:
"Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality; listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God..."
"We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world...we forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God."
I am learning that when I hide hard truths in the burial ground of denial, I also deny Jesus the opportunity to bring resurrection into my life.
Lately, I've been going back through old blog posts as I try to resuscitate my blog. It hasn't been easy to read blog posts written just two or three years ago and to remember the pain of all that was happening in my life at that time.
The journey has been, and is, hard.
Parts of it are ugly.
A lot of it is sad.
But, it is very, very real. In order to heal, I have to see and name the truth.
I have to acknowledge that life has not turned out how I wanted it to. I can't just pretend that I am okay. "Being strong" or ignoring the pain and moving on aren't going to allow God the space to bring about healing.
I've also been on a path these last few months to have a healthier lifestyle. In order to do that, I have had to face the truth of the rationalizations I have used to eat in an unhealthy way. I've had to face my tendency to reward myself with food and to comfort myself with food. I have had to recognize that sometimes I turn to food more quickly than I do to God. I've had to be honest about my triggers and emotions.
Denial can keep us trapped in negative patterns. Recognizing truth can set us free.
Acknowledging our insecurities, fears, defensiveness and other unpleasant things in our lives can pave the way for the Holy Spirit to come in and begin to produce new fruit.
Please join me in leaving the river of denial and moving towards the solid ground of reality. Here are some questions that might move us along towards truth.
Is there an area of my life that I am trying to ignore?
Am I seeing something that concerns me in a loved one's life but not wanting to put words to it because I fear the truth?
Are there some red flags that I am trying not to see?
Is the option of "easier" keeping me from facing what I need to face?
Am I missing an opportunity to experience freedom because I am refusing to see the truth?
Holy Spirit, please give us eyes to see the truth about ourselves and others. Gently guide us in how to take the steps we need to face reality. Please give us words to put to our stories. May your deep and sweet healing begin. Amen.