How to Break Up with Your Anxious Life
Meeting the Need for Reality, Part One
In this series, we’ve talked about the God of All Comfort, and how he meets our needs in order to reduce our distress – whether it be distress in our bodies, minds or souls. Let’s remember what they are:
The need for a name, for value and purpose, for rest, for fun, and to be present without excess worry or false hope. Today, I want to talk about our need to live in reality: to discern the truth of our situations, to name the truth of our emotions, and to live in a community that welcomes truth-telling.
In my family of origin, occasionally, we would have explosive, emotional arguments. When these fights had spent themselves out, one of our parents, trying to bring us back to peace, would say, “It’s okay now. People say things they don’t mean when they are angry.”
That’s not the worst way to mend a fight; at least they tried to mend it. The problem is, it wasn’t truthful. People often say exactly what they mean when they are angry.
In the last year, I learned the saying, “Anger is sadness’s body guard.” Anger helps us feel less vulnerable. If we express real pain, only louder and meaner, it’s easier to recover if no one takes our pain seriously.
In my family, the most frequent way to resolve these conflicts was to essentially say, “I wasn’t really telling you I was in pain. I was ‘just’ mad.” If I was the offended party in the argument, this practice left me feeling crazy, rather than comforted. If I was the observer of the argument, it made me feel distressed that my parents hadn’t come to a solution. As I got older, I tried to push more truthful conversations and that was not well-received.
I’ve come to understand that this practice of re-interpreting distressing conflicts was a form of gaslighting, the practice by which someone is told that what they can clearly see happening is not actually happening.
Which is why I’m pretty attached to Jesus. Though most people think of Christ as grace-giving, he was equally committed to truth-telling. He didn’t just call out oppressive systems and sins when he saw them, he invited his hearers to confront conflict head-on. He taught not only that we should ask for forgiveness when we wronged others, but also directly confront others when we were sinned against. Jesus was about bringing things into the light, not minimizing sin or pushing pain into the shadows. He did this on interpersonal levels and also on religious system and societal levels.
Saying, “Nothing is really wrong here,” will never bring peace or restoration; it won’t bring about God’s kingdom, and it doesn’t increase love.
I hope this is music to your ears. Because some of you were raised in homes that simply had no language to name conflicts and so no way to resolve them -- and you’d like to do better. Some of you have even more painful stories, where you were learned that whoever named the problem was the one causing the problem. You saw things go wrong and wanted to right them. You saw someone get hurt and wanted justice for them. You were teased, abused, or neglected and wanted validation and comfort. But in a system where those in charge didn’t know how to repair, or weren’t interested in truth-telling, you were blamed rather than valued for your insight and even your empathy.
You were not allowed to live in reality.
Long-term results of living in relationships where truth-telling isn’t welcome are legion, and include an inability to set boundaries, anxiety, depression, chronic physical pain, shame, co-dependency and substance abuse.
Spiritually, it produces a distorted version of God, and an upside-down version of love.
Years ago, I was pushing really hard for repair within my family system. I believed we needed to start by honestly naming the ruptures. One of my family members asked me, “Can’t you just show up and be loving?” I heard it, as I had as a child this way: “You’re naming a problem, so you are the problem.” Shame ensued.
The next day I read 1 Corinthians 13:6: “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth.” It began to heal me. Love rejoices in the facing of truth, even the truth that no one wants to acknowledge. And when truth isn’t brought to light, evil keeps growing in the darkness. I wanted to go directly to my nearest tattoo parlor and have it inked on my arm. If I can ever convince my husband that it’s a good idea, I’ll do it.
The Bible is filled with people who lived in reality and told the truth. Moses. Esther. Jeremiah. Isaiah. Nathan. Deborah. John. Jesus. In obedience and love, they called out wrongdoing so that it might be rectified. It didn’t always go well for them (remember when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you no prophet is accepted in his hometown”?) The whole Bible can be seen as a story of rupture and repair. Of truth leading to loving reconciliation.
If you have been living in unreality, come on out. Welcome to the light. The God of Comfort Lives here and He is full of Grace and Truth.
Next week, we’ll talk about practical ways to live in reality, and how we can encourage truth-telling and repair in our current relationships and with our kids.