Growing up as a pastor’s kid in a single-income home meant we never had much cash floating around.
I learned a lot of key life lessons because of this, including the fact that Puffed Wheat cereal is a grievous waste of space, Puffed Rice is far worse, and car troubles are actually The Worst Thing Ever. And they never stop. At least, they never seemed to for us.
My parents went through a string of really terrible vehicles, including a few station wagons (think faux wood paneling), one enormous 10-seater van - really an 8-seater with 2 extra seats fused (possibly illegally) into the back - and three Mercury Grand Marquis, aka “Couch on Wheels”, aka “She Float”, aka “Officially the Worst Car to Drive in the Winter, Ever”.
One of them, at some point, wouldn’t start unless you stuck a ballpoint pen somewhere into the engine. To this day, I have no clue how that actually helped. Let's just say my dad's gifts do not lie in the mechanical realm. The engine actually produced flames at one point during his heroic efforts with the pen. I mean really, it’s a miracle we’re all alive.
Quite literally as I was writing this post, my mom messaged our family thread on Facebook a picture of her holding up a piece of rusty metal that had fallen off of their old junky van as she was driving that day. That, in a nutshell, sums up our family history with cars.
Something else I learned from all those years of interesting-slash-potentially-life-threatening incidents was that familiar feeling of dread when you begin to suspect something’s wrong with your car. That weird rattling noise when you accelerate. That squeak in the brakes that wasn’t there yesterday. The steering wheel feeling kind of frighteningly stiff. Or just flames. Flames are never good.
Josh and I have had our fair share of car-related drama too, and every time something feels or sounds not quite right we have to ask ourselves: do we want to know what’s wrong?
Do we want to take it to the mechanic, have it taken apart and examined and diagnosed?
Do we really want to know?
Well no, we don’t. We don’t want to know. Because knowing comes with a price tag. Knowing costs something. We might not know what the problem actually is, but we know that if we know, we’ll be out of pocket in a blink.
So, when the warning signs come, we hesitate. I'm not suggesting that's right. It's kind of stupid. But it's what we often do. We wait, out of some kind of hope that it'll just sort itself out. And of course, it never does.
I hope you get where I’m going here. This isn’t really about cars.
I’ve been in many situations through the years where I tried to convince myself I wasn’t scared and I wasn’t hurting and that I was fine and everything was fine, when everything was not fine. The warning signs were there. Everything was a mess.
But it’s scary to face the diagnosis.
It’s scary to come to terms with the not-rightness of something, and to put a name to it and facts to it and reality to it, reality that sometimes other people can see when we can’t. And this is where we, like little potato bugs curling up in a ball to self-protect, often curl up into a state of denial.
Denial is like flying a kite on the beach when a tidal wave is coming. Denial is a fear-driven, self-protective tactic we use on ourselves and others to distract attention away from what’s going on at ground level.
Denying the truth is the default position of our flesh.
Default = potato bug. Think about the apostle Peter. After walking with Jesus through several years of supernatural ministry, having seen him raise people from the dead and heal lepers and transfigure in glorious light right before his eyes, Peter denied his Lord and Saviour three times on the eve of the crucifixion.
Peter did it. We all do. You do it. We self-protect by denying the truth.
I heard it said recently that people who can’t control their own emotions will try instead to control other people’s behaviour. This is what denial does. Denial deflects the problem that is mine onto other people. It converts the problem, in my head, from being my problem that I do have tools to deal with, into being an attack on my identity and worth that I need and deserve protection from.
When I am living in denial of my problem, I am too scared of what the truth will cost to actually deal with it. I create an external storyline that is at odds with the real facts of my life and my inner health. I broadcast myself in a way that makes me feel in control of what other people think of me. I manipulate information about myself to gain approval so that I can achieve my goals. But like the sputtering car, this kind of behaviour will only get me so far before something breaks down.
Many years ago now, I was in a really terrible relationship. I had staked pretty much all of my hopes and dreams for the future on that relationship, so coming to terms with the reality of it was terrifying. For a long time, I denied the truth and just put up with the mess. I put on a happy face and only allowed people to see the parts I wanted them to see, so that I could protect the relationship from coming under pressure. It was all out of the fear of losing everything I thought I wanted for my life. But eventually the truth revealed itself, and the relationship tore apart in a really messy, ugly way.
Having said that, although there was pain, there was an immediate sense of relief in being done with it at last. It was a relief to see things for what they were, and to see that God actually had something better for me than this dead-in-the-water thing I had so desperately tried to keep alive for so long.
God wants you and I to reckon with the truth, not because he wants us to be shamed and pulled to pieces in front of everybody, but because the truth is good for us.
The truth sets us free.
I believe the Holy Spirit wants some of you reading this right now to really reckon with his truth - to stop flying that silly little flappy scrappy kite of image and reputation and self-victimization, and just recognize where you’re at, point blank.
The truth isn’t going to destroy you, or your reputation, or your identity or value, or your family, or the purpose of God for your life.
It’s going to be like drinking a glass of cold water on a hot day. It’s going to be refreshing. It’s going to be good. It’s going to get you where you need to be.
It’s going to unlock your feet to run into the things God has for you.
The truth will set you free.