God tells us that the human heart is deceitful and wicked. Humans often are not truthful. He also tells us he desires truth in our “inward parts.” What a dilemma! Jesus further tells us that our problems in life, with others and with God, do not originate with our behaviors, but in our hearts. Yet when we try to please God, our focus is usually “being good”—on our behavior—rather than a change of heart. How can we sort ourselves out and become more aligned with God? One thing for sure, ignoring the problem, carrying on, muddling through, won’t cut it. It takes some focus—on our hearts.
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For Further Consideration
More about Dr. Seeligman and his work on learned helplessness can be found here.
That’s one side of the dilemma. And then on the other is Psalms 51:6.
Psalms 51:6 – Behold – this is David talking to God – You delight in truth in the inward being, and You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
The word for desperately sick could be translated incurable. So we have an incurable condition that is just the opposite of what God wants from us. That’s our dilemma. Further, God tells us He is truth. And one of our main objectives in life is to become like Him. So some of us just throw up our hands and fall on God’s mercy and Christ’s loving sacrifice and soldier on, not thinking much more about it. Certainly, we are to fall on God’s mercy and on Christ’s loving sacrifice – none of us will ever be perfect by our own effort – but we also know that faith is called dead if it doesn’t produce good works in us. James said that. So, just not thinking about it, and just going ahead on and trusting God to take care of everything, that leaves out the part that we have to do. Just because we’re covered by Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t mean we not supposed to be doing anything – that we’re not supposed to be producing, or improving, or moving forward.
When I try to put all of that ambivalence between truth and lies aside and go on, I get this uneasy feeling. After telling us about how we are, maybe God is expecting something from us. I say, “truth and lies,” because He wants us to be true, and yet we’re deceitful. So, today, I hope to take you with me on a journey I’ve been on for the last fifteen years or so while I’ve been a counselor, as well as a minister. The counseling side of it has given me a vantage point I never had before. And I’d like to share that with you. So let’s get on with it.
What will truth in our hearts about ourselves do for us? And what will lies about ourselves do for us? Why do we become anxious, depressed, and do bad things?
Well, I had a client some time back that was a really good example of how all of this works. This woman came for therapy. She had a husband who made lots of money. And she had a wonderful daughter, who was in middle school. Her husband, about two or three times a week, would stop at a micro-brewery and then come home late for dinner on those evenings. And sometimes he might have had a little too much beer to drink and sometimes not. And when he would do that, she would – and I’m using her words now – erupt like a human volcano. She would scream and curse. She would threaten divorce. She’s cry and slam doors. Once she even took a swing at him. Fortunately, he artfully dodged and she missed. Now all this was done, more often than not, in front of her sweet daughter. Now she knew that that wasn’t good for her daughter to hear that, but she was out of control. That’s what she told me. She couldn’t seem to control it. And that, in fact, is how I met her. She brought her daughter for counseling because her daughter was anxious. You know, she wanted me to fix the kid. The little girl explained why she was anxious, so I asked mom and dad to come and see me. The reason she was anxious was because she was afraid they were going to get a divorce. So that’s how I came to work with the mother – the little girl first.
Now notice that she very much wanted to stop her behavior and the havoc it was causing in their home. So that desire was good, right? She wanted to stop, but couldn’t find a way to do it. So what should this woman think about herself and her behavior? Should she think that she has no self-control? Should she think that she’s stupid because she knows she’s making her husband anxious, so he stays away and drinks more? Whether he’s an alcoholic or not is not relevant to our story here. This is about the woman. And she’s making her daughter, whom she dearly loves, sad, angry and anxious. Should she believe that she’s defective – that she can’t control herself? Should she believe that, because of her behavior, she’s unlovable? Well, in fact, she believed all of those things. So what do you think? Are those thoughts truth or lies? What should she do about her situation?
You know, the advice she got from her husband, her daughter and her parents was all the same. You should just get over it – just stop. Don’t be so difficult. Can’t you see what you’re doing to your family?
Now, I know that it takes two to Tango. And we might point to the husband and say, “He’s an alcoholic,” but we’re not talking about him today. We’re just talking about the woman and – if I can just use her term again – volcaning that she does. You know, she’s not going to be judged because her husband is an alcoholic. She’s going to be judged on how she lives her life with him. So we’re looking at her today.
This is what always happens. I see this pattern over and over again in therapy. People behave badly – they’re raging, withdrawing, they’re passive/aggressive, they’re depressed, they’re anxious – and then they’re mystified by their acting badly and they want help behaving better. And some therapists do work at teaching people to behave better, but it has always made more sense to me to find out why their behaving badly and then work on that. And when we do that, the bad behavior just becomes a non-issue. They stop misbehaving, because the cause of it is no longer present.
Jesus said something really interesting in this regard in Matthew 15:17. He was talking to Peter, and He said:
Matthew 15:17 – Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” – spiritually. And that was the issue. The Pharisees were giving them a hard time because they didn’t ritualistically wash their hands the way the other Jews did.
So, because this woman desperately wanted to do better, once I explained that Jesus principle in modern terminology, she was all in. It didn’t take long to discover that she grew up in a home where her parents would explode and scream and curse and slam doors, just like she was doing. That is one of the ways that we learn how to behave – is by watching the adults. And it’s not that we say, “Oh, I want to be a door slammer, or a screamer” just like that. It’s that we unconsciously take that in. That becomes our fall back behavior. But that’s not the only reason. When parents are exploding and screaming and cursing and slamming doors, it makes us afraid, it makes us anxious, and it makes us angry. And when we’re anxious and angry, then it’s easier for us to explode and scream and curse and slam doors. So, it’s not just that we watch what happens when we’re little and duplicate it, but the way those things make us feel, makes it easier for us to produce those behaviors when we get older.
We also learned that her father could never be satisfied with anything she did, no matter how hard she tried to please him. He would make no comment about her excellent report cards, but only something negative when she got an A- or a B. When she got the occasional lower grade, he would berate her and tell her that she was worthless and that she wasn’t trying hard enough.
So we also learned that both her father and her first husband were alcoholics. So there’s a sensitivity there to her husband’s drinking. Right? When these things happen to us in our lives, we try to learn from it, and that makes us hyper-sensitive to things. Sometimes we overreact.
So we made a list of all the things that she learned early on about herself from her father and we found that she learned that she was defective in that she was unlovable. It seemed clear to her young mind that parents usually love their children, so there must be something wrong with her. And she also learned that she was lazy and stupid. And she learned that she was worthless and insignificant, and also helpless to do anything about it.
Okay, so that’s kind of the important part of her background. And those are the reasons why she was depressed and anxious and afraid. But why, specifically, was she erupting? Well, let’s ask the question, “What did drinking mean to her?” Well, it meant that things were out of control and that disaster was imminent. She learned that with her father. And she learned that with her first husband. And it meant impending divorce. That’s what happened to her mother and father. And she had already been through one divorce with her first husband. And there was nothing that she could do to protect herself and her daughter from all that. That’s how she believed. She believed those things were all true – that the situation was out of control, and that divorce was headed her way, and there was nothing she could do to protect her daughter. She felt helpless.
Let’s think about what coming in late for dinner meant. When her husband came in late for dinner, it meant that he was staying away because she was unlovable – not desirable. You know, he told her many times, “This isn’t about you. I just like to drink beer with my friends.” He was a business man and he would meet friends there at the bar. And he said he conducted a lot business there and all of that. But to her, it meant that he didn’t like being around her and that she wasn’t lovable.
And what did erupting mean? Well, it’s interesting that her own negative behavior reinforced all these beliefs about herself. He husband probably stayed out at the micro-brewery more because he knew what it might be like when he got home. She was in a cycle there, where the angrier she got, the less he wanted to be around, and the less he wanted to be around, the angrier she got. And she was learning from that, “I must be a bad person. Look how I’m acting.” When she had those temper tantrums she called volcano eruptions, she would feel guilty about it later. And she should have, because that was bad behavior. And when her husband came home late to dinner, it meant that all the bad things she’d learned about herself were true. And that made her angry beyond words. And so she would rage – something that she felt, but didn’t dare do as a child. She couldn’t get away with throwing tantrums like that because of her father’s abusive alcoholic proclivity. So she was an adult now, and she was acting all that out all over again.
So now we’re getting down to why we titled this sermon this way: Truth and Lies. There are certain things that she learned about herself that were lies. She was not stupid. She was not lazy. She was a very hard worker. She was not worthless. And she was not defective. In fact, the fact that somebody could come believing all of these negative things about themselves to therapy, and expose all that to me, meant that, I think, that she was a very courageous person, and that she wanted to do better
So what are the true things, then? If those things are all lies, what would the truth be? Well, the truth is, she didn’t like how she was acting. So that’s good, right? If you act badly, and you think that’s okay, then you’re really in trouble. You have a personality issue, probably. But she didn’t like how she was acting. She didn’t feel like her behavior was really her. She wanted to get rid of it – separate herself from that. And she was willing to admit freely that she was not behaving well – there was no cover-up with her. She wasn’t being deceitful to me or even herself. She came for help and was courageous to face her negative experiences and her anger and her despair. And she was motivated to do those things by love for her daughter and then her husband.
God tells us we are His children, and that He cherishes each of us, and that He plans to lift us up and give us all things. In that term all things, that’s a biblical term to explain what we’re going to get when we become a part of God’s family. And the truth is, that she is valuable, loved, significant, and that would all be in spite of the foolish things we do. You know how you are with your kids. You expect them to behave badly, because they haven’t learned better. And that’s your job – to teach them, right? We don’t hate them because they act badly. We might get frustrated. You certainly see evidences of that in the Bible, where God got frustrated with Israel, and where the apostles were frustrated with the brethren. Remember that time, in Hebrews 5, where Paul told the church – he’s writing to the Hebrews, right? – the book of Hebrews – that means the whole church – that they were like babies who still needed to be nursed and drink milk, when they should be mature enough to eat solid food by now. Very frustrated. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t love them. And we do all kinds of bad things, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us.
So, that she felt unlovable and defective – simply not true. Behaving badly – true. Able to overcome that – all true. So all the things that she learned from her negative environment were not true.
Now, how did she overcome the lies that she believed about herself? You know, when I first read this scripture – that the human heart is deceitful above all things – I didn’t realize that the person who is most deceived by our heart is us! We’re more self-deceiving than we are deceiving of other people. So here’s how she overcame it. We made a list of terrible experiences she had as a child, and then we processed each one of them one by one – chronologically, from earliest to most recent – with EMDR until there was no upset any longer about any of them.
And one of the questions I asked her about each one of these experiences was, “How did that make you feel about yourself?” And this is where the list of lies came from, interestingly enough. She never once got the correct picture of who she really was from the negative experiences. They were all lies. When her father would tell her that she wasn’t trying hard enough, she didn’t say, “That’s not true. I tried as hard as I could.” No, she would say, “I don’t work hard. I’m lazy,” to herself. So that’s where the list of lies came from.
And then, right after that question, I would always ask her, “In a perfect world, where everything is just like you’d like it to be, how would you rather feel about yourself today?” And this is where the truth came from. But the truth that we know doesn’t feel true. The lies do. We can know it intellectually – for example, we’re not lazy – but we still feel lazy. That’s why we can’t just get over it. As a therapist, I still try to tell people how they are. I give them feedback about who they really are – the positive things. But that doesn’t really help them that much. It doesn’t, because they still believe the things that they learned when they were young. That’s why we can’t just get over it. We keep living with what reality is to us. And until that reality changes, we continue to act out the lies over and over again in our lives. And that’s where the problem is. And it’s always that way with everyone. The things that we learn early about ourselves – the negative things – are usually never true. And we know we should feel okay, but we don’t believe the truth that God reveals to us.
But as we proceeded, and processed these negative experiences, these lies started to seem like lies, and the truth started to seem like truth. She said, “Oh, I don’t have to erupt at my husband when he drinks, because it’s not about me, and because it doesn’t do any good, and I’m smarter than that, and his drinking is not proof that I’m unlovable. He’s an alcoholic, so of course he likes to drink.” That was a statement she made. “In fact,” she said, “my exploding on him probably makes it harder for him to come home. And since it’s not okay for him to drink here, he drinks somewhere else.” So that really was the truth of it. I got to know him later, and he was a very anxious person. And all the stuff she was doing to him about his drinking would take him right back to the lies he believed about himself that he learned that he learned at home.
So this woman can still see faults that she has. She’s not arrogant. Just because she believes she not defective, her sense of self is not inflated or unrealistic. But it’s not deflated and unrealistic either. So she has an accurate, truthful picture of her strengths and her weaknesses. And her assessment of herself, because of that, is much more accurate and truthful from before. She knows that she’s God’s child and that He loves her. And she could, because of that, gradually become more and more accurately assess her strengths and her weaknesses, and acknowledge all of it. And she gradually began to believe that she could be okay with herself – that all the things she learned about being not lovable and defective from her father really weren’t true. And so she began to see herself in a more positive light – more like the way God feels about her. And as she did, the anger and insecurity subsided, and she let her husband own his own problem. Instead of trying to be responsible and fixing his drinking issue, she let him have it himself, which is the only way it’s ever going to get resolved. Nobody ever stops drinking for somebody else. They stop because it’s what they know they need to do. So she stopped erupting on him. And guess what? He became much less anxious, and didn’t need to drink as much, and came home much earlier most of the time. And since they’re more loving, there’s less fighting, and their sweet daughter is much less anxious, too.
So the cycle was all going the wrong way, and all the bad results were just causing more bad results, and so on. And now, it’s going the right way, where, if she just lets go and lets him own his problem, and she feels okay about herself, and doesn’t feel insecure, and realizes that God’s going to take care of her, then everything starts to get better. Her husband feels better, her daughter feels better. Things have started to improve. And all that has to do with dropping the lies and believing the truth. That’s what it’s really all about.
So, to wrap this up, let’s look at something else Jesus said. It’s in Matthew 15:19. We read this before, so I just want to reiterate this:
Matthew 15:19-20 – For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile the person.
Murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander – we don’t usually associate these attitudes and behaviors as caused by lies we believe about ourselves. But they do. In every case I have ever worked with, bad behavior follows after lies we believe about ourselves. If our heart is deceitful, as the Bible says, it’s the most deceitful to us.
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Until next time, this is Bill Jacobs for LifeResource Ministries, serving children, families and the Church of God.
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