How Christians can Stop Denying and Start Living
Living in denial keeps Christians stuck in emotional pain, fear, anxiety, bad habits, addictions, and hang-ups.
Members of a church in Florida were astonished when they arrived at a Sunday morning service several years ago. A grey, 9,000 lb. live elephant was chained in front of the church. The sign outside declared that the topic of the day as “Denial.”
Uhmmmm…..what does a large, smelly grey elephant have to do with that topic?
Living in denial is like trying to ignore a big grey elephant in a small house. Elephants take a lot of room – it is hard to avoid them. They make a lot of noise, lifting their noses to trumpet their presence - usually when we want them to be quiet. And they smell, especially after they go to the bathroom on the new living room carpet.
Still, we often choose to use denial to:
- cover ourselves with a phony mask to make us look perfect to the world and hide who we really are
- pretend that traumatic events we experienced never existed because we are afraid to feel the pain they caused
- avoid facing responsibility for bad habits, addictions, and destructive ways of thinking and relating to others
- run away from situations to avoid getting hurt
- ignore things we need to change in ourselves
- get a false sense of control over our lives
The problem is, like the elephant, the truth we are trying to evade through denial keep surfacing, bumping into us, trumpeting, and demanding resolution.
Denial is not a solution to life’s dilemmas
Living in denial means that we are constantly in fear and anxiety that:
- people will find out how “bad” or “weak” we really are
- facing our emotional pain will overwhelm and destroy us
- we won’t survive if we try to deal with our addictions and compulsive behaviors
- we can’t deal with the fact that people who should have loved us actually hurt and abused us
- our belief that we can control and fix our lives will be exposed as not working
Denial keeps us stuck in our hurts, destructive habits, and bad behavior. We numb ourselves to pain with things such as drugs, alcohol, working too much, or obesessive compulsive behaviors instead of working through it. Our relationships are damaged by our outbursts of unresolved anger and hurt.
The elephant is still there, reminding that we can’t avoid facing the truth about ourselves. We may expend a lot of energy spraying deodorizers and cleaning up elephant dodo instead of seeking God's healing, but we can’t fix things on our own strength.
We have to turn to God (Psalm 47:3) to help us clean up the mess left when we ignored the elephant in the room.
The Bible says we shall know the truth and the truth will set us free (John 8:32). Freedom sounds like a wonderful thing, but we often run from it in fear. Denial feels so much more comfortable at first, but in the end the elephant will step on our toes and will trumpet so loud that the walls of the house will vibrate.
Facing our pain is a scary thing but God promises us that he will not put us in a situation that we can’t handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). He gives us the strength to bear our hurts and follow through. The pain we may go through is just temporary as we journey towards healing.
Coming out of denial and into the truth
Admitting the truth of our situation is the first step toward healing. As TV guru Dr. Phil always says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” We cannot open the door to God's healing until we do. God says that you can’t heal a wound by saying it doesn’t exist (Jeremiah 6:14). God comes to help us when we call on Him (Psalm 145:18).
He shows us where we need to make drastic changes. We can become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Coming out of denial is not easy. An alcoholic has to give up medicating unresolved pain and enter rehab. A battered woman in denial of her husband’s abuse may have to give up a comfortable home and lifestyle to live somewhere else in reduced circumstances. The workaholic has to face the pain of his divorce and may need to seek a support group and/or professional counseling. The compulsive cleaner has to accept the fact that having an immaculate house is not an indication that she is effectively controlling her life.
Coming out of denial means that we put God in control of our lives. We admit that our lives are unmanageable and that God is the only one who can help us clean up the mess. It is hard for us to admit that our efforts to control our lives fail miserably, but it is the first step toward healing. When we submit our lives to God and He is in charge, our lives can start to work again (Jeremiah 30:17).
We will feel some pain at first, but eventually we can experience joy and freedom from fear, worry and anxiety (1 John 4:18). As weak human beings, we will struggle from time to time to get back to center. The power of addictions will always be there. The temptation to escape into denial will always be there. Unresolved pain we had buried could surface at any time.
Sometimes we will fall on our faces in miserable failure. However, God says He will always be there to help us on the road to recovery if we are willing to step out of our denial.
In the end, accepting the truth is healthy for us. It stops us from hurting ourselves or others, and prevents others from hurting us. So let us accept our own personal truth and send the elephant in the room back to the zoo where he belongs.