By Anthony Casperson
A couple of weeks ago, a lie rolled around in my head. That’s not to say that other falsehoods haven’t flown through since, but this particular instance caused existential pain. And some depressive thoughts as well.
I’m sure that some individuals reading this have undergone similar instances on more occasions than we would like to admit. The particulars of the lie are a homebrewed amalgamation of chemical balances, personality type, life events, coping mechanisms, and interactions with specific personal contacts. We all have our own special brew of homegrown lies. And though your personal refrain of mental fiction won’t line up perfectly with mine, there are certain commonalties that can help us relate to one another.
And hopefully learn from each other as well.
This lie, in particular, dealt with my worth as a person because of how narrow a reach my attempts at ministry are. Let’s face it, there aren’t very many people reading these words right now. There’s a reason why I get a little excited when I receive a notification saying “Brushstrokes of a Theonerd had one new view this week.” Because I don’t get that notification very often.
This thought reminded me of the fact that I’d looked at the sales of my book Hydroponic Spirituality: Thriving in The Depths and seen that the number of sales wasn’t even close to triple digits. If all of the people who told me that they were going to buy the book did, then there’d be less than a handful of unaccounted for sales. (Though that doesn’t count the surprisingly-close-to-half-the-official-number of copies, from the stack that I can personally sell, that I’ve seen my dad dispense to random individuals he knows.)
And mentally, I know that numbers don’t equal effectiveness or obedience to God’s call in my life. But lies don’t care about what we know. They prey on getting us to feel and believe that they are the truth regardless of facts that contradict the veracity of their claim.
Somewhere along the line, an event or a person put a negative statement in our heads that felt true in the moment. “If you don’t accomplish big things, then you’ve wasted your life.” “You’re never going to amount to anything.” “If you’re not like us, then you’re nothing.” “You suck at [insert whatever the person thinks is the most important thing in life: sports, education, musical talent, etc], and are never going to be a whole person because of it.”
It twisted an experience into a particular narrative that then caused us to remember it whenever we faced similar circumstances. “This little thing I did is a waste of time and energy. Think of all the big things I could’ve accomplished if I weren’t such a failure.” “Here I go again, falling into obscurity. I’m worthless.” “These people want nothing to do with me either. There’s something wrong with me.” “I’m never going to be able to do the things everyone else can so easily do. Guess I’m never going to be a whole person.”
Then, we started to act in line with it, causing us to behave as if the lie were true. “I’m a failure, so I’m not even going to try doing these little things.” “I’m worthless. So I might as well settle for the little that I can get.” “There’s something wrong with me. I have to change myself at all costs.” “I’m incomplete and trying isn’t good enough.”
And that led more events or people to agree with the original statement, not because it’s actually true, but because we behave as though it were. “You’re worse than a failure. You don’t even try.” “Are you even doing anything with your life?” “You’re just a wannabe. Stop making a fool of yourself.” “Are you good at anything?”
And that’s the cycle. A moment in time placed a negative statement in our heads that twisted our perspective to believe it’s true, causing us to act in line with it, which then leads to repeated instances of reinforcement. And each new time we circle the depression-go-round, the lie amasses more ammunition to aim at us in its war of fiction and half-truths.
But how do we get off this ride? How can we end the psychological violence that our own mind seems to want to wage against us?
As far as I can see, there tend to be two perspectives. The first looks to the actions and says the problem is there. Rather than acting in line with what we’ve heard other people say about us, we should decide what we want to be true of us and act in that manner instead. “Fake it ‘til you make it” tends to be the mantra here. Act in line with what you want to be true, and it will then become true.
While there is benefit from looking at the action of living up to (down to?) the lies in our heads, there is a problem with this perspective. New lies are not better than old lies. Lying to a lie won’t create truth. More often than not, the attempt at faking it will become a new ride for us to “enjoy” on the occasions when the previous lie gives us a break from the cycle. Dizziness increasing as we’re thrown in a new depressing direction.
The second perspective focuses on the fact that only truth can defeat a lie. Therefore, such proponents would say that when the lie pops up in our head, all we gotta do is scream the truth at it. Keeping the truth in our heads will force the lies out. Knowing the right things about ourselves will then cause us to believe them and act in line with them. Thus revealing the truth to everyone around us.
Like I said before, only truth can defeat a lie. This is good. But I’ve also already written the problem of this perspective above as well. Lies don’t care about what we know. They’re fine illogically existing alongside truth. It makes the falsehood’s job all the more fun as it yo-yos us along with the cyclical spin. Truth doesn’t automatically remove lies, especially the early and deep lies that infected us before we really understood the truth. Screaming “Go away!” at a hurricane won’t make it die down any more quickly. The destruction is still going to happen.
So, what is the answer? Especially for we followers of Jesus.
Honestly, I struggled with this question. I wanted to write about this topic because many people need it. (And the fact that I need it too didn’t hurt that desire.) But discovering an answer that doesn’t end in trite little mottos or a “just believe it” mentality is difficult. Even more so when it comes to a biblical perspective on the issue.
But then yesterday, literally an hour or so before I sat down to write a blog of some sort for today, a passage came to mind. One which I’ve mentioned before. But hey, the same passage can teach us multiple things. So here we go.
In 1 Kings 19, we see the prophet Elijah. He’d just defeated hundreds of prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in the previous chapter, proving that the God of Israel was the only real God. Truth existed in his head. And though he got the crowd to dispense the justice of God’s command against false prophets (death so that their lies would die with them), Elijah knew that it was more about a crowd getting caught up in the moment than a true repentant act.
There at the mountaintop experience, Elijah looked around and saw himself alone. The only prophet of God against the rest of the world. Leading this whole affair was the idolatrous king of the land who could kill the prophet just as easily as the hundreds of now-dead false prophets. Sure there were hundreds more Israelites who gave praise to God for the moment, but how long would it be until the fickle mob found something new to rally around? And yeah, Elijah had a servant on his side. But that little fact didn’t stop him from believing that he was alone.
And so, in the early parts of 1 Kings 19, we see Elijah run out to the wilderness. The desolate places where nobody wants to go.
In the depressive thoughts, including prayers to be left alone so that he could die, the prophet sat in his loneliness. Even entering a depressive comatose sleep. But God had an angel wake him with food and drink. Twice. The lone prophet out in the wilderness got room service from God via one of his mighty army. But he was certainly alone.
God had a special meeting planned for the prophet. As close of a face-to-face as you can really get with the being so holy that a direct glance would annihilate any and every sinful human being.
It began in the cave. God’s voice came to the prophet. “What did you want to discuss, Elijah?” To which the prophet responds that he has been faithful to God, unlike every other person in Israel. He is a lone prophet. Everybody else that had been faithful to God is dead because of their faithfulness to him. And now, all alone, the prophet hides from the most powerful human in Israel who seeks his death.
God calls Elijah outside to the part of the story that most remember. The strong gusts of wind, the earthquake and the raging fire, all powerful natural events of destruction in which God wasn’t found. And again, in a quiet voice, God repeats his question to his prophet.
And the lie cycles around again on Elijah’s lips.
He’s alone. There’s no one else faithful to God. No one else is going to stand for the truth once the king kills him.
And what is God’s response starting in 1 Kings 19:15? Does he tell the prophet to not worry about it? Or to believe that hundreds or thousands or millions of Israelites will listen to his proclamation of God’s truth? Does God just state the names of every living and faithful Israelite? Or just state forth the truth that the prophet isn’t alone?
No. None of these things.
He tells this prophet, who thinks that he is the only one on whom God has his hand, to go and anoint three other people on whom God is to rest his grace. Elijah is a faithful prophet, so he should act like one.
The first anointee is to be the next king over Syria, the very people whom God will eventually use to punish the Northern Kingdom of Israel for their sinful idolatry. The second is a general of Israel whom God is going to make reign over the land by destroying the very king that Elijah fears. And the third is Elisha, the prophet who will replace Elijah after God eventually raises him to heaven via a chariot of fire.
Not only is Elijah not alone, but he won’t die like most people do. Not by King Ahab. Not by anyone. Ascendant alive to his God.
But God doesn’t say any of those truths. All God tells Elijah to do is perform the duty of a prophet. Act in line with the truth.
And it’s only then that God comes to verse 18. The meeting is coming to a close and God speaks, “Oh, and by the way Elijah, there are seven thousand faithful in Israel, not just you. I could give you their names, if you wanted me to, but you have a job to do. So, be faithful in the same manner that they are.”
The answer is to focus on both actions and truth. Not one or the other, but both. God spoke truth that shut down the lies of Elijah being alone, but not until after the prophet had been given actions that reinforced the truth.
So, when the lie cycle comes to destroy us, let’s perform the truth of what God has called us to. It’ll reveal and reinforce more truth.
That’s not to say that weaker or newer versions of the lie cycle won’t return for a rematch. But then we won’t have to struggle as long figuring out the weak spot.
For me, writing this blog doesn’t mean that more people will read it, or go looking to the book I wrote. But it does remind me that even if I am the only one changed by acting in the truth of these words, faithfulness and obedience makes it worth the effort. Because my worth comes not from doing amazing things for God, but growing in him.
What truth do you need to act out to defeat the cycle?