May 17

Lies:  The illusion of self

       One of the destructive results of lying is not knowing who we are.  A lie is an illusion.  And believing a lie about ourselves leaves us with an illusion about ourselves.  How can this be?

       Denial is a coping mechanism that inhibits us from facing the truth about ourselves.  It’s a form of resistance preventing us from taking a good, honest look at who we are inside.  We naturally try to avoid pain and pursue pleasure; and denial is the best way of avoiding the not-so-pleasant truth about ourselves.

       But while we remain in denial we will have difficulty seeing what other people see.  When I look in the mirror I see only what I want to see.  And most of it is an illusion.  These are the ‘beliefs’ that I have about myself – things about my outward appearance, my intellectual capabilities, the way I come across to others, what I deserve in life.

       When I joined a fellowship of 12 Step recovery and began to work the steps, one of the first things I had to face was my powerlessness.  I had to admit that my life was out of control and completely unmanageable.  Without this recognition my recovery was doomed from the start and I was forever locked in my addiction.

       Self-awareness and self-acceptance was key to my recovery.  The lies I told myself needed to surface in order to begin a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.  Without honesty the long road to recovery wasn’t going to happen.  I was forever destined to circle the issue without ever attacking the real problem.

        It can be compared to the mother who, when asked where her children are, responds with “Oh, I really don’t want to know.  Please don’t tell me what they’re up to.”  Like an ostrich with its head in sand we prefer not to know.  “Ignorance is bliss,” we say.  “What I don’t know won’t kill me.”  And all the while we are in denial the cancer grows and spreads all around our lives.

       There is only one way to fix the problem of denial and the illusion of self:  Tell the truth – and do it quickly.  Strip off the whitewashed walls of your self-image and begin to take a look at who you are for real.  No more stories in your head about how great things are, and how well you’re doing.  

       And no more stories about what isn’t there.  A poor self-image causes us to believe horrible things about ourselves that are far from true.  But when we’re convinced that we are worthless, we try to convince others as well.  It’s not because we hate ourselves; far from it – we believe these negative stories because somehow it works for us.  We get something from it.  Perhaps in a perverse sort of way we find it comforting to believe that we will never amount to anything.  That way, we won’t have to try.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Deception:  I need to hide

May 16

Lies:  Coping with guilt

       We have a tendency to confuse guilt with shame.  Guilt is how we feel about what we’ve done; shame is how we feel about who we are.  Only a sociopath never feels guilt.  Guilt is a good thing.  It means our conscience is working, because we feel bad about the way we behaved.

       But when guilt is ignored it starts to interrupt our sleep, morph our eating patterns and negatively affect our health.  Guilt that isn’t dealt with is a robber of peace.  And we must – for our own survival – learn how to cope with it.

       And what do we turn to first?  That’s right, we start lying; first to others and then to ourselves.  My ‘career’ in lying resulted in a conscience that I barely knew existed.  I learned to lie about everything, even things that didn’t need a lie attached to it. 

       Lying became for me a kind of drug; I needed to keep lying so those around me would continue to believe in the persona I wanted to project.  If I began to feel uncomfortable about my life, the things that I did or didn’t do I would tell a lie in order to maintain the charade.

       Sugarcoating reality – our actions and feelings – is the way we learn to cope with the things that are wrong in our world.  Lying helps us to accept our anger and resentment by helping us justify it in our minds.

       When I was in high school I knew someone who perpetually lied about everything.  He made up stories about himself and the things he’d done, the places he’d been.  At first I believed his stories, but after a few months I began to see through them.  I liked him and would have liked him even without his pretense.  But he felt, I guess, that it was necessary to embellish his life in order to have an equal footing with me – or to create an aura of superiority.  In either case, it seemed quite ridiculous from my perspective.

       But when you’re in it, when you are deep into the lie and believe the story yourself you don’t see how completely absurd it all sounds. 

       I learned later in life that lying served a purpose for me.  It enabled me to live a double life.  Just like the man who had two or three wives, each one in a different city, and had kept this knowledge from everyone except himself, I too lived a duplicitous life.  It was the lie that enabled me to become two different people.

       It was when my addiction was at its height that my lying became quite pathological.  Not only did I suffer from a serious addiction, but I suffered from the disease called ‘lying.’  But I was committed to this double life like my life depended on it.  And lying was what made it all possible.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Lies: The illusion of self  

May 13

Lies:  “I don’t want to know.”

       “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve made up my mind.”  That was my attitude about life in general; I would rather be right than happy.  But as it turned out there were two things I didn’t want to know about:  1) My own personal weakness, and 2) The strength of my Higher Power.

       For the most part I have been in denial about my own powerlessness.  I suffered from a serious sexual addiction and chose to ignore it and hide it for well over thirty years.  It took my wife and some close friends to convince me that I was powerless over this addiction.

       In my Twelve Step group I learned exactly just how powerless I was over my addiction.  The stories of other addicts were very similar to my story, and I gradually became convinced that I needed to do the ‘Steps.’  These are the same 12 steps suggested by Alcoholics Anonymous.  I also learned that it took more than just reading and studying the Steps; it required some rigorous work.

       Positive change never comes about by positive thinking.  Change takes place when you start to take positive action – the 12 Steps.  I soon learned that I wasn’t going to be able to ‘think’ my way out of addiction.  It was going to require some serious action on my part.

       I am a thinker.  I love to spin ideas and turn things over in my mind for weeks on end.  And I believe that having the ability to dream up ideas is a wonderfully motivating gift to possess.  But it didn’t ever get me to where I wanted to be.  I was lying to myself by thinking that I could turn my life around by myself.  To get somewhere I had to put one foot in front of the other.  To reach a goal I had to take the appropriate steps; I was never going to ‘think’ my way out of my addiction.

       The thing I was really confused about – or should I say, in denial about – was my need for a Higher Power.  I was raised in a conservative Christian home where “Christian’ values were taught both at church and in the home.  I was taught to believe in God and how to pray.  But my fundamental need for a Higher Power was some how missed.  I guess I had trouble connecting the dots.  There were enough lies about God and my relationship to God that kept me at arms length.  Things like: “Ask and ye might receive.”  The lie I believed was “God gives sometimes but mostly withholds.”

       It sounds awful but, even though I believed in God, I didn’t really trust in God.  I doubted God would provide for my needs, so I made up a world in which I always got what I needed – without having to ask and not receive.  I guess you could say that I didn’t want to know the truth about myself because I’d already decided to take of myself as best I could.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Lies:  Coping with guilt.  

May 12

Lies:  The absence of truth

           To remain in a lie is to be lost in a labyrinth of deception.  We simply want to protect others from knowing the truth and protect ourselves from facing the truth about ourselves.  So we remain in this maze never knowing which way to turn, and never clear about the truth of where we are or who we are.

       Just as fear is the absence of love and chaos is the absence of order, so lies are the absence of truth.  This may seem obvious.  But the point is this:  “The truth will set you free.”  Escaping the maze will require that we face the truth.          

       Below is a comparison between Lies and Truth:

       Lies                                             Truth

  1. Pretense                                   Honesty
  2. Secrecy                                     Openness
  3. Denial                                        Acceptance
  4. Darkness                                  Light
  5. Fantasy                                    Reality
  6. Lost                                           Found

       “Sin has many tools, and a lie is a handle that fits them all.”  We think it is necessary to lie to others in order to protect them because we are convinced that they can’t handle the truth.  But we fail to realize that our deception is a result of our own guilt.

      We hedge and skirt around issues because we are afraid what the truth will do to us and to others.  We are afraid of the truth because we think that it will destroy our lives.  We have heard that “the truth hurts” since we were children.  I used to equate this cliché with the spanking I got after the truth came out.  And we are correct in thinking along these lines.  The painful truth will reveal who we really are.

       Lies cannot exist without pretense and secrecy; they flourish in darkness and fantasy.  Taken to an extreme lies will lead to denial – suppressing the truth.  Fantasy takes over and eventually you are lost in the labyrinth.

       Lies cannot coexist with truth.  One lie leads to another, and another.  Lies create a maze that goes round and round.  When we are deep into lying we are deep in the labyrinth.  And there isn’t much chance of getting out.  Only through openness  – a willingness to be vulnerable – will we find the light.  Only through acceptance of reality will we find our freedom.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Lies:  “I don’t want to know.

May 11

Lost in the labyrinth of lies and deception

       To remain in a lie is to be lost in a labyrinth of deception.  We simply want to protect others from knowing the truth and protect ourselves from facing the truth about ourselves.  So we remain in the maze never knowing which way to turn.  Never clear about where we are.

       There is an element of seduction in all of this.  Like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we are enticed into the world of doubt and deception.  The man blamed the woman; the woman blamed the serpent.  Neither would take responsibility for their actions and hid because of their nakedness.  Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we’re not seduced because we’re stupid; we’re seduced because we want to be seduced.  And blame will suffice to excuse our decisions.

       “Sin has many tools, and a lie is a handle that fits them all.”  We think it’s necessary to lie to others in order to protect them from the truth.  We are convinced that they can’t handle the truth.  But we fail to realize that our deception is a result of our own shame and guilt.  We aren’t protecting anyone but ourselves.  Things do not go well for us because we are constantly trying to manipulate the situation and the information we give to others.

       I was raised in a conservative Christian home where I learned “Christian’ values both at church and in the home.  I was taught to believe in God, and how to pray. The thing I was really confused about – or should I say, in denial about – was my need for a Higher Power.  My fundamental need for a Higher Power was somehow missed.  I guess I had trouble connecting the dots.  There were enough lies about God and my relationship to God that kept me at arms length.  Things like: “Ask and ye might receive.”  The lie I believed was “God gives sometimes but mostly withholds.”

       It sounds awful but, even though I believed in God, I didn’t really trust God.  And the evidence was overwhelming:  My life was out of control.  I was wandering inside a maze, never sure which way to go and without hope of ever getting out, lost in a labyrinth of lies and illusions.  

       One of the destructive results of lying is not knowing who we are.  A lie creates an illusion; and believing a lie about ourselves leaves us with the illusion that we can handle things all on our own.  This illusion is what keeps us running in circles as we try to find our way out.

       Self-awareness and self-acceptance was key to my success.  The lies I told myself needed to surface in order for me to begin a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.  Without honesty the long road to recovery wasn’t going to happen.  I was forever destined to circle the issue without ever attacking the real problem.

  Tomorrow’s topic – Lies:  The absence of truth  

May 10

Religion:  The need for revelation

       There is much talk about spiritual enlightenment these days.  Something that can be achieved if and when you follow a certain formula or methodology.  There is no talk of forgiveness or humility.  Enlightenment may have some connection to quantum physics but has nothing to do with Higher Power or God.

       So I don’t want you to confuse enlightenment with revelation.  These two notions are quite different.  Unlike enlightenment, “revelation” is not something you can achieve by working a certain program.  Without God there is no revelation.

       Enlightenment is something you can attain through exercise, like going to the gym.  There’s a goal in mind.  It is certainly more than physical or emotional, and there is a certain “aha” feeling to it.  It’s perspective; it’s a paradigm shift.  It’s “knowing.”

       Revelation is more like a “Damascus Road” experience like that of Saul of Tarsus.  When (according to Scripture) he met up with Jesus Christ – while traveling on the road to Damascus – he made a complete one-eighty about face and began crusading for the very one whom he was persecuting.

       Revelation is something that happens unexpectedly.  It does not require that you meditate, or fast and pray.  It happens completely out of the blue; that’s because it’s by grace.  We as humans resist it, and often don’t recognize it as such because we haven’t done anything to achieve it. 

       Revelation has been given in the form of the written word.  But we can’t always understand what the Spirit is saying to us.  It is the Spirit of Truth that will lead us into all truth. 

       Jesus said, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.”  This is a promise given by God to us.  We don’t receive it because we don’t accept it.  And we don’t accept it because we don’t understand it.  The religious think that it involves loyalty to the church.  The non-religious person thinks it involves joining a church. 

       Nothing could be further from the Truth!  This promise from God is an invitation to escape the emptiness of religion.  It’s an invitation to escape the heaviness of our own willfulness and bad choices.  And (following the context of Scripture) it’s an invitation to be free of the burdens and requirements imposed upon us by others.

       It’s a call to freedom. 

 Tomorrow’s topic – Lost in the labyrinth of lies and deception

 

May 9

Religion:  Resisting God’s grace

 My religious experience was one of tension; tension between salvation by grace and salvation by works.  How was I to understand spiritual experience?  If I am saved by grace does that mean I don’t have to do anything to experience salvation?  How is God’s grace going to make a difference if I don’t have to do anything? 

       This tension around ‘grace’ and ‘works’ puzzled me whenever I tried to think through it.  Doesn’t the Bible tell us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling?” 

       When it came to obeying God’s laws, (Thou shalt not…) as a young child I wondered if lightning would strike should I break one of them.  If I stole something nothing happened.  I would use the Lord’s name in vain without so much as a distant rumble from the heavens.

       As I got older I would pray for things to happen, or not to happen.  I prayed that I would pass an exam that I hadn’t studied for.  I asked for money so I could get something I thought was important.  My prayers often (almost always) went unanswered.  “Ask and ye shall receive” seemed like an empty promise.

       And when I discovered what I wanted to happen didn’t, I’d take matters into my own hands.  I  would try to force the hand of God by making plans, and then ask God to bless my personal agenda.  And in my attempts at gaining spirituality I actually blocked any chance of true connection with the Divine.  Instead of letting God work His miracles I tried to perform a few of my own.

       Religious zeal calls for control in “biblical” proportions!  Spirituality is soon measured by outward display:  Church attendance, tithing, Scripture memorization… restricting alcohol and tobacco consumption, going to the theater… you get the picture.

       And when we have successfully constructed our own spiritual pyramid there is little that God can do for us.  We feel pretty damn smug that we have God all figured out and we are now in control of our own spiritual destiny.  Grace then becomes a name for a woman.  Nothing more.

       In all our religious activity we resist (we frustrate) the grace of God.  Like the Pharisees in ancient bible times we are guilty of legalism:  Trying to win our salvation by keeping the Law of God (along with a few of our own rules and reg’s). 

       By missing the real thing we settle for a counterfeit spirituality.  One that is based on doing rather than being.  One that is supported by our limited, finite efforts instead of God’s unlimited and infinite grace.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Religion:  The need for revelation

May 6

Religion:  The illusion of free will

           As a young student in a local seminary I wrestled with the theological concept of man’s free will.  Some of my prof’s maintained that we did not have free will.  The unregenerate person is unable to choose God.  We are totally depraved at birth – completely lost in our sin and going to hell in a hand basket.  When man fell in the Garden of Eden, he lost the power to choose. 

       The past thirty years have made a believer and an unbeliever out of me.  I maintain that we do have the power of choice.  We never lost it.  We just don’t have the same access to God that Adam had.  We need salvation.  And salvation was provided through the finished work of Christ.  I believe this with all of my being.  If God hadn’t taken the initiative (it is God’s nature to initiate things) we would still be lost in our sin – original sin.  God’s mercy has provided for us the power to choose:  God or no God.

       But we can’t forget about God’s justice.  He has created universal laws that apply to all – believer and unbeliever.  And if you break one of these laws, you will pay for it.  That is God’s justice.  There is no escaping it.  God’s will wins out every time.  So this idea of free will is an illusion.  Anything I choose to do that doesn’t line up with God’s will is only going to hurt me.

       Thirty five years of addiction has convinced me that my will is not free.  There is only one will in the universe:  God’s will.  There are universal laws that govern our universe; what God has willed shall come to pass.  We can choose to accept God’s laws or we can choose to resist.  But it doesn’t alter the fact that God’s will is supreme.  The pot can’t say to the potter, “I don’t like the way I look.  I want to look like something else.”  You were dealt a hand in the great poker game of life and you must play your hand.

       Free will is really just an illusion that we hold on to because we want to be in control.  In control of what?  Our destiny?  Some of us think we can manipulate God.  So we pray harder, and give money to worthy causes, and remind God in our prayers that we’ve been good.  Much of our praying is manipulation; trying to get God to do for us.  For example, we abuse and neglect our children and then ask God to make them turn out all right.  Similarly, we neglect to save a percentage of our income and tithe regularly – and expect God to bless us financially.  Who are we trying to kid?  “What a man sows that shall he also reap.” 

       There is only one will in the universe:  God’s will.  When my will lines up with God’s will, then I am free to choose.  When I stop resisting God’s laws and accept reality, then my life begins to improve – because I chose it, and because God willed it.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Religion: Resisting God’s grace

May 5

Religion:  Suffering through futility

       What is the definition of insanity?  “Repeating the same thing over and over hoping for a different result.”  I laughed when I first heard this definition.  But quickly realized that I must be insane! 

       My religious background had me convinced that I needed to ‘up the ante’ if I wasn’t getting the results I wanted.  “You need to pray more” I was told.  So I would pray more – and put more intensity into my prayers.  But that wasn’t cutting it.  

       “You need to get more involved.”  I was involved a little too much; thank you very much.

       “You need to read your bible more.  And really study it.”  Right!  More studying.

       I found myself searching for techniques that would help me become a better Christian.  I wanted the latest and the greatest method to spirituality.  I read a lot of books.  Certain authors were recommended to me as the “key to the deeper life.”

       But my search was all for naught.  There wasn’t some guru that was going to set me on the pathway to success.  My self-help book collection soon became my “shelf help” library!  I was working out on a spiritual treadmill and hoping to really go somewhere.

       My emphasis was on the outward.  I learned this from my fundamentalist religious background.  If you’ve done something not particularly “spiritual” – like getting drunk, or getting your girlfriend pregnant – make sure that you keep up appearances.  People need to know that this religion thing is for real.

       Our “testimony” was important to keep intact before a watching world.  We needed to pretend that we were damn near perfect.  I’m not sure why we had to present such a preposterous lie.  Maybe we felt that other non-believers would be attracted to our “perfect” lifestyle.  So we couldn’t go to movies, or drink beer, or smoke cigarettes, or go to the school dance… 

       Continuing to reach outward for the answers but never finding them is insanity. 

       Or perhaps if that words sounds a bit too extreme, let’s call it “futile.”  Religion is a treadmill that keeps us moving without going anywhere.  Religion is based on a belief that ‘what worked for my parents and their parents is good enough for me.’

       Where there’s no grace there’s no spiritual reality.  And where there’s no reality there is only pretense and illusion.  Do you want religion or reality?  It’s your choice.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Religion: The illusion of free will

May 4

Religion:  The absence of grace

       There was always an odd sense of insincerity in the particular wing of Christendom in which I learned about God.  We taught love but felt hate.  We preached forgiveness but felt judgment.  We taught humility but practiced self-righteousness.  Religion is an attempt at spirituality without any grace.  Religion cannot exist in the presence of grace; it’s what we do in the absence of grace.  Below I have listed a number of comparisons between grace and religion:

 Religion                                                           Grace

  • Authoritarian                                              Equality
  • Guilt                                                             Gratitude
  • Exclusivity   (separation)                          Inclusive   (union)
  • Legalism   (rules and regs)                        Freedom   (law of love)
  • Blame                                                            Mercy
  • Judgment                                                     Forgiveness
  • Conditional                                                   Generous
  • Self-righteousness                                       Humility
  • Dogmatism                                                   Tolerance

       Religion is a concept, a belief we humans have that we can maintain our spiritual lives by following a certain code.  We think we can manufacture spirituality all on our own.  Our spiritual lives have been reduced to a formula, much like a self-help manual that guarantees instant success or your money back!

       Religion has boundaries – and God can only be found within certain limits.  Within any given religion there are dos and don’ts that regulate its member’s behavior in order to maintain a certain level of conformity.  It’s interesting that Jesus brought his message to a religious community, but challenged their religion continuously.  He knew that there was no salvation in religion.  Religion was what held the people back from experiencing God’s grace. 

       Religion is so intent on controlling our ideas of God and our methods of obtaining salvation that we often miss the whole point.  We want freedom but end up with a lot of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that weigh us down and actually prevent us from experiencing freedom.  We start out with happiness and end up feeling either sad or bored.

       It was my addiction and a 12-Step group that led me to God’s grace; I was exposed to real grace and humility for the first time in my life.  It was grace that taught me how to pray for and accept others who suffered like me.  As I began to experience grace I was able to experience God in ways that my intellectual understanding could never match.

 Tomorrow’s topic – Religion: Suffering through futility