In 2018, I was working my way out of a very dark and difficult season of my life. I was doing a lot of searching, counselling and learning to answer the question, ‘how did I get here?’ What I realized is that I had simply allowed myself to slowly but surely believe so many lies that kept me in a toxic space. It was hard to change because, while on some level I knew my thinking and behavior wasn’t right, it was what became comfortable at that point in my life. And while my conscious knew things weren’t healthy or right, they were at least comfortable and predictable. Those feelings tricked me into thinking I was safe and free to control the outcome.
But this of course was a lie and it was through this season that I started to understand real freedom and its connection to truth, as highlighted in the gospel of John.
Through my mid-twenties and beyond, my life seemed okay on the outside and I had a lot of “success.” But on the inside, things were spinning out of control. I was making a lot of bad decisions, but I justified it because I had thought like, “God can do all things and He will ultimately fix this” and “it’s not that bad, I’m under grace so if I keep sinning it’s not a big deal.” (ahem, lies)
When things got SO out of control (thank God!) I somehow found the courage and strength to crawl out of this pit I had dug. I was working in my Cultivate What Matters goal-setting PowerSheets and there was a card for ‘word of the year.’ My word was TRUTH.
You see, I’d read this verse in John chapter 8 before but it never really resonated in a deep way. My previous interpretation was something along the lines of…. ‘Truth brings freedom. Okay, cool. So like, freedom from what? Eternal damnation? Cool, check that box. I’m a Christian and I know “the truth” of who God is, so I’m covered, next!’ (I feel another blog topic coming on here!)
But once my life became a total mess and I was emotionally bankrupt, I personally found so much more depth of meaning and applicability that I believe highlights an inherit connection between truth and freedom.
While I had taken some small steps physically to get out of an unhealthy place in my life, I realized that my mind and thoughts were still very much stuck in their past ways of operating. I was still a prisoner to my ways of thinking. Essentially, I had allowed myself to believe lies that justified this life that I lived and as chaotic as it was at times, it was my life and it was all I knew. It was harder to move my mind forward into new ways of thinking and believing.
Around that time I had watched the movie, Room, about a girl who was abducted, abused and confined to a shed in someone’s backyard where she somehow managed to raise her son. She and her son knew this shed as “Room” and when they were finally found and reunited with her actual family, they found it very hard to adjust to this new, healthier environment. While they were no longer being abused, they also had an overwhelming change in their life and had no idea what to expect. Everything was foreign and it’s hard to feel safe when you’re walking in uncharted territory. At one point, her son sadly says something along the lines of, ‘Mom, I want to go back to Room.’ This still brings me to tears. It breaks my heart the story of these people, and because on some level (granted in a situation much less severe) I could relate. I was in a battle with my mind and emotions to follow my physical steps of moving forward and creating new patterns of behavior. It was very hard to change because the lies were what I leaned on to keep me safe and comfortable, or at least that’s what I thought.
Here are some lies I believed:
- I have to make sure I don’t upset people because that is how you keep peace in relationships
- I’m a good person to be in relationship with people who are hard to manage because I’m so easy-going so I can balance it out
- It’s my fault and I should feel guilty about this situation being the way it is
- Someone else’s dysfunction is my responsibility to fix
- I know a lot of things are wrong in this relationship, but we’re Christians and generally good people so God will clean up our mess
- I’m not a good Christian if I don’t forgive everything and drawing boundaries is not necessary
- This relationship seems really unfair at times, but that’s okay because I’m strong enough to take it
The key to me making changes in my life, not only physically but almost more importantly – mentally and emotionally – was to slow down when I was faced with a difficult and upsetting situation and analyze my reaction. I had to ask myself if I was operating out of fear, guilt or shame. Because if so, I was probably still then believing a lie. And one of my favorite pastors, Bill Johnson, often says, ‘when you believe a lie, you empower the liar.’ I could often feel on some faint level that my reaction didn’t feel right, so if I could stop and get down to the bottom of the lie that was rooted there, expose it for what it was, and then replace it with truth (often the Word of God and verse that spoke healing and encouragement to me) then I had hope of living in actual freedom from my past ways of thinking, behaving and being treated.
Here is an example:
- The scenario: Someone calls me and is angry. They’re swearing and erratic. It’s not a productive conversation but rather boarding on verbally abusive and controlling. This is not the first time this is happening.
- My feelings: This is making me feel awful, scared, trapped, weak and guilty.
Two Choices for How to Think and React:
- The comfortable, lie-based pattern of responding that let’s bondage remain:
- Thoughts based on fear and lies: Just stay on the phone and hear them out. If you hang up it will only make things worse.
- Actions justified to support the lies: It’s not nice to hang up on people. Everyone has a right to be heard. This person just has a hard time controlling their emotions and that’s okay. No one is perfect.
- The result: These toxic conversations continue. Nothing changes. I think I can just go back on with my day but now feel awful about myself, my day is wrecked, I’m in an emotional spiral, the conversation keeps replaying in my head, etc.
- The initially uncomfortable, yet truth-based pattern of responding that leads to freedom:
- Reaction based on truth: I will state once or twice that this way to communicating is not okay or productive, and that I won’t let the other person talk to me this way. I’ll let them know that if they continue with this toxic behaviour, I will hang up and end the conversation (state boundary and the truth).
- Acting on truth: When behavoiur continues, hang up and feel okay about it. Remind yourself that you were fair and honest and there is nothing to feel guilty about. The way the conversation ended was not your fault.
- The result: Following through may feel a little scary and uncomfortable at first, but more and more will lead to feeling free and empowered. You can go about your day knowing that you chose what is true and right, and you didn’t take on those toxic words or behaviours.
You see, it sounds so obvious. Even when I read it back. But we all do this. We all have unhealthy relationships with people, food, objects, etc. And then we justify it. Those things give us something – comfort, the appearance of what we want, identity, pleasure, etc. But I think there is also often a (still) small voice inside of us that is telling us this isn’t right. It’s not truth. It’s not actually bringing us the freedom, joy, peace, etc. that we’re seeking.
And if, like me, you get to a point when you say enough is enough. This thing, relationship, lifestyle etc, is no longer serving me. I’m making a change! I believe you have to be willing to cut off the lies, and the superficial protection and comfort they bring, and go through a gradual process of replacing lies with truth. Because from my experience, only then will you truly rid yourself of that which is not good for you and find absolute freedom. And there is nothing sweeter than freedom, inside and out!