I learned how to lie when I needed to learn how to lie, which was early and often. In our family of seven children, of which I was fifth in line, I was small, often sick, and well-liked by my siblings and parents. And I developed a certain knack for getting what I wanted. Some of this was innocent, a girl discovering that being good at reading people and liking them without requiring much of them meant a world of friends and favors; some of it was less than innocent, a realization that people believe you when they like you. So if I needed to lie, I did. It seems strange, maybe, to say one might need to lie, but you know what I mean. When the truth was less convenient and potentially even hurtful to those involved, why not simply skip over it?
I lied to get out of trouble. I lied to avoid hurting people’s feelings. I lied to smooth over painful problems. It was easy. I was good at it. And it didn’t feel like lying. It felt like making a way to do what I wanted to do, which was usually even good stuff, a kind of lying that most people find completely acceptable. So I wove my reasons, my excuses, my schemes, and constructed a world for myself. An acceptable world to most.
But really, in the end: I was a liar.
Not a big liar, of course. I’m too good at lying to be a big liar. Every good liar knows that big lies don’t work- they just cause big trouble, and you will get caught. Liars live inside the protective hedge of many small lies, like organized rows of low foliage, so pretty that at first you might think it’s a garden. But it’s not. It’s a maze. It’s twisting rows of thick bushes, designed to keep you on a certain path but never letting you see the whole picture- there is no aerial view of the liar’s maze. That’s off limits, and even if it wasn’t, often the liars themselves don’t have the whole picture. It’s too hard to keep straight. The lies aren’t just for other people, they’re very much for the liar’s sake as well.
My lies evolved over the years into a complicated kind of information-keeping. I tell this much to this person, less to that person, nothing at all to the rest, and all of this information holding and distributing is based on one thing: control.
If you know me casually, you would not call me a controlling person. I’m easy-going. I make plans and cancel them in the same breath. I don’t hold grudges. But there is a tightened place inside me, so tight that all other parts of me twist around it. That’s my control valve. I clutched that valve all day long, the notches of the handle impressed in my sweaty hand, trying so hard to control people’s expectations and how they felt about me. Expectations crush me, and I cannot bear to disappoint, so I turn and turn and turn in order to avoid people expecting anything I can’t (don’t want to) produce and to avoid the pain of your (even perceived) disappointment.
For 31 years, I lied in every small way necessary to protect myself. I didn’t tell anyone everything, so that I could control what people wanted from me, and how they felt about me.
Turn, turn, turn. So tight I could barely breathe some days.
This lifestyle is not without consequences, because you can’t keep everyone far enough away to keep up the facade. And if you can, you are probably very lonely. But I can’t. So my husband and I had the same fight for nine years: the one where I didn’t tell the whole truth and then he finds out and reacts about whatever particular truth it was, and he reacts just the way I imagined he would which is why I kept the information from him in the first place. Except I never even gave him the chance to process the whole truth, so I never really knew who him in the open, in the air. He looked different in the shadow of my hedges, just like everything else.
“But isn’t staying quiet (hiding the truth) (lying) better than having someone mad at you?’ I spent my days wondering. This is my pervasive darkness- that which says, “Preserve yourself. Find safety behind small walls. The truth hurts more than it helps.” Like a jar of vegetables in the pantry, pickled to the point of sour. Preserved, yes. But always hidden. Always altered.
Here’s the thing about loving Jesus, about being loved by Jesus. You can’t stay the same. You can’t. And if you are trying to, you are probably very lonely. Because to be loved by your Maker is to be continually made, and in the making you will be revealed again and again, unmasked and unraveled and then recreated, a new creation, fresh (and vulnerable) in the potter’s hand. This is incredible. This is painful. This is love.
And last year, I had to answer a serious question. On a day of suffering by my own doing, a day when small lies threatened to topple me, the Maker spoke into my hardened heart in the middle of my kitchen and asked with kindness:
Are you ready?
I knew right away. I knew it was time. I fell on the floor, I did, I fell down in tears and called out my yes, called out that I was done living half a life. I wanted what God had for me, and I was ready to let Him unravel me for the sake of truth. For the sake of light. I’m done lying.
There is voice inside each of us that has been whispering some version of a certain story since the day we started looking for way to explain why the world hurts so much. It usually starts early. Childhood, probably. Once you feel the shame of being disregarded; after someone acts in a way that surprises and hurts you; when you realize the enormity of your own shortcomings and your own brand of selfishness, a frantic search begins for a protection mechanism. I don’t know yours, but I know mine well. I know this maze. I know these corners.
You might be reading this and shaking your head at how bad I am- if you’re not a liar, and I find that you either are or you aren’t, then this probably sounds like the machinations of a sick person. I mean honestly, isn’t it though? Don’t we all fight against the circuitry that we’ve allowed to flow for so long, those sparks of bad reasoning wired through our brains, the electric shocks that keep us from peace?
I don’t know your darkness. I don’t sit there with you. I don’t hold your hand through the night; I’m too busy hiding in my own tight spots. But I’m here to tell you this:
Someone has conquered your darkness. Someone has come to set you free from the destructive short-circuiting that you cannot seem to escape.
Either Jesus is everything, or He is nothing. The gospel, the good news that I have been saved from myself, is enough to shatter all of my lies. The ones I tell you, and the ones I tell myself. In the warm light of Jesus’ love, information remains simply that: information. It does not bear the weight of all my fears and old patterns. It does not hinge on your reactions. In the blinding light of the King, the truth isn’t subjective. The truth isn’t controllable. The truth will set me free.
I want to be free.
Break me out of this pickle jar, Lord. Burn down my hedges. Let me breathe again. I don’t want to be kept, to be altered, to be suffocated: I want to live at ease with myself, because I have found an ease in your presence. If I am approved, accepted, beloved: There is no need to try and prove otherwise.To me or to anyone else. There is no greater relief in my life than this new wild open air, the pure oxygen of absolutes.
The year God healed me was a year draped under a banner of the word “Claim.” I kept a growing list of all the things I claimed, or took rightful possession of: Peace. A sound mind. A place at the table. Healing. The grace of God that brings new life. And most of all, in a stunning, decades old plot twist, I claimed the truth. I claim it. I proclaim it. May I never, ever, give it back in exchange for some cheap version of life alone in the darkness. May my face be a reflection of the one true light. And most of all,
“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
In my journey away from lying, this book changed my life, my marriage, and my patterns, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It gave language to what I knew was true about myself, and helped me find healing. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so worth it. Let me know if you have questions about it or are interested in reading it. It’s better done in a group of trusted friends, which is where I found tremendous change and healing this past year.
There is no darkness too terrible for the light. You are worth more than whatever is threatening to choke you, and there is a way to change. And take it from me- the air tastes so much better out here in the open.