Awake in the bottom bunk. An oscillating fan perched on a stool next to the bed purred back and forth across my face, circulating the Texas heat.
At it's center, embossed on it's cage of a body, a logo in a shiny silver circle. My eyes traced the shape. A circle. A circle never ends. The preacher that morning said life never ends. It goes on forever. I felt trapped. I didn't want to live forever. What could I ever do for forever? I didn't want to die either. Not existing scared me as much as always existing. I cried out for my mother. She sat with me, told me to imagine the best things ever. Heaven is even better, she said. But I still didn't want to go there. I was scared. I was five.
"That was the first time I remember doubting the goodness of God," I answered. "And then again in the sixth grade, and in tenth, and a few months in college. And every time it brought depression. Never depression without doubt... Hmm. I never realized that."
It was this first question and first answer that made me trust Spooky Friend enough to stay and talk some more. And she asked many more questions. And we asked God a few too. Each one led to the next, unearthing a long trail of half truths and lies I'd believed for a long time. Wrong priorities, incorrect assessments of others and myself, imbalanced theologies, outright lies about God I'd swallowed so long ago that I'd never spat them back up and looked them over to see if they were edible in the first place.
My guess - and it's only a guess - is that the process we went through was very much like what takes place in any therapist's office. Question and answer. Going back over the past. Tracing current "issues" to their roots. Unearthing skeletons and other embarrassing and brutal details crawling beneath the foundations of a life that's begun to tilt off axis. I have many friends who've gone through this process in a therapist's office. None of them are well. All of them are medicated. One of them is dead. Most of them are self-absorbed and fearful.
Their therapists dug up the skeletons and the lanky clanging bones of the undead eventually marched them to a pharmacist, and when that drug stopped working they went to another, and another. And the skeletons took a seat, took naps, took vacations, sometimes long ones, but never died. They were always over the shoulder, behind a parent, hiding in a stressful situation or temptation, lurking in a new uncomfortable situation. Never dead. That's my friends. Maybe not yours.
And on their way to the pharmacist most of them had some eggs to throw at parents and teachers and mentors and brothers and sisters and religion and society at large. So when Spooky Friend asked me about my father I stopped playing along. I stopped trusting. For a minute.
"My father isn't perfect. I'm not a perfect father either. And I'm not interested in blaming him for anything that's gone wrong in my life. Adam and Eve had a perfect Father and they still messed up. He loved me."
And she smiled an affirmation and passed me a tissue. She'd hit something. And I knew it.
We unearthed it and other skeletons of my own making - I made them by perceiving the world as children do, slightly different than it is, through idealistic expectations that are inevitably unmet. We dug up a small army of lies two weeks ago Wednesday, not all them ancient, most of them from the last five years. We didn't medicate them or treat them with a process of many weeks or years. We crucified them, replaced them, destroyed them.
We started by giving them names as they were discovered:
Arrogance & Pride. There's something I get from doubt, something that makes me hold onto it. It's the same thing that makes me judge other Christians or ways of doing this faith thing and church. If I doubt and everyone around me does not then it means I must know or understand something you all don't. Which means I'm much smarter than you.
Certainty & Independence. I don't do well not knowing. The more I know the more I control and the less stress and hurt I'll have in life.
Shame & Regret. I had sex before I was married. I don't teach on abstinence. I don't play True Love Waits conferences and the like. I don't do these things because I feel unqualified to. And I fear that if anyone knew the truth they'd feel I'm unqualified too. And I work to pay my wife back for that mistake, as if I have to earn her forgiveness or God's. I'm not sure which.
Anger. I've always been angry. I don't know why. I don't hurt others physically when I'm angry and most people wouldn't suspect me to be an angry person, but I am.
Fear. I'm afraid mostly of what other people think of me. I always have been. I figure most of us are. Bust most of us, I hope, don't have to hear the words "good job" to keep going. That's why comments are turned off for now. I wanted to be honest in these posts. I wanted to tell the story as it happened not as the comments wanted it to be. Writing blind has been a good discipline to defeat my fear of you.
And many more.
Then every named skeleton of untruth was replaced by a truth. We confessed each untruth and wrong belief to God, claimed forgiveness that is mine because Jesus died to give it to me, we thanked God for that and asked God for a word or ideal with which to replace my old way of thinking, something true and alive to replace the skeleton:
Arrogance and Pride were replaced by Humility and Grace alone.
Certainty and Independence were replaced by Belief and Dependence.
Shame and Regret were replaced by Forgiveness and Love from God - my Father.
Anger was replaced by Peace.
Fear was replaced by Acceptance and the verse that sooths Gabriella in her darkness, "God is my helper. I will not be afraid."
As each lie was exposed, named and replaced I repeated words like these after her out loud, eyes open, looking each other in the face:
"Shame and Regret, you are not welcome in me any longer. By the authority of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, by the power of his blood, and with the sword of the Holy Spirit I sever the unholy soul tie between you and me. Thank you, Jesus for making me your possession, your child, and for forgiving me of my sins on the cross. Thank you for forgetting them, Father. Thank you for loving me as I am today, right now."
Therapy has the power to dredge the lake for bodies, to search the past for wounds and gather an army of skeletons. And drugs have the ability to mask the stench of those decaying bones inside us, to hide the smell of the Fall. But what I wrestled two weeks ago put off such a foul odor of doubt and sadness that lighting Paxil candles wouldn't make the air palatable again. I had to realize that. Admit that. See the situation for what it was, a spiritual one. And then the bones had to be destroyed. But even as I was experiencing belief and relief from this kind of battling I still wanted a long process instead. I just didn't believe this was it, this was the solution for my despair. Too easy. It had to take more time than this.
At one point Spooky Friend asked me if we'd destroyed them all by asking, "Are you free and clear?" "I think this'll be a process," I told her. "I'm just too tired and it's just too late for us to do all this today." She led me in a prayer against fatigue and asked what in me was asking for "a process." "This is ending today," she demanded. And we dug and destroyed some more.
I wasn't battling doubt. Doubt was the last one to the party. It was the boisterous one drawing my attention and energy but it wasn't the root or the strongest enemy of mine. There were many there before him setting up chairs and blowing up balloons and setting the table and unlocking the doors and windows to my mind, making the preparations so he'd feel most welcomed in me when he finally arrived. I was weakened before he came by the lack of intimacy in my marriage due to busyness, and a lack of peace in my business relationships, and sickness, and Guilt and Shame and Envy and all the rest of the party going skeletons and obstacles in life. I felt great for having made it through so much. I celebrated with a dinner on a Friday night. But I didn't realize how weak victory had left me. That weakness was made more sever by my lack of time praying and being with God recently - not studying Him and teaching about Him - but being intimate with Him, with no agenda. I was busy doing much good, knowing much, teaching much, but being strengthened by and in love with God very little. I was ripe for overthrowing. And when doubt came in, my own impotent life became the proof he used to convince me Christ was a fable. The perfect package, like she said. Package made of and carried to me on lies.
And pills don't kill lies. Truth does. The truth set me free two weeks ago. The truth is simple. I'm God's boy. He loves me and always has. He put on skin and was executed to pay for all the law breaking that kept me behind bars and far away from Him, from loving Him. He unlocked my cell when He walked out of his tomb on the third day. I believe this story is true so Paul says I've crossed over from death to life, I'm approved of by God, forever. More than that, I'm better than acceptable, I'm his boy. Me. All I've done. He doesn't see it. He sees His blood, His offspring, His child.
And because I am His there's a family resemblance. Like a boy becoming more like his Dad the older He gets, over time I'm looking more and more like Him to people outside our family. People will notice this someday. I am proof of His goodness, the proof of invisible God. And the Author of Lies can't have that. He can't have proof walking around unconfronted. He wants to mar my complexion, distort me in a way that I don't look like Dad any more. He wants me in bed, curled up and scared. He wants me blaming someone else. He wants me powerless. He wants me to forget the truth of who I am, how God sees me, why I'm here. He wants me to ignore the spiritual reality behind the physical world we live in. He wants me to laugh at words like "spiritual warfare" and "blood" and "sin" and even "Jesus." He wants me critical and cynical and apathetic. He wants me busy and religious. He wants me to believe that those times Jesus fought Satan and worked miracles were just stories that never really happen today. He wants me in therapy the rest of my life. He wants me dead.
But I am not defenseless. He doesn't have to have things his way. I am the possession of God and so I cannot be possessed by anything else. I can only grant permission for lies and sin to squat on me, God's property, for a time. But those permission slips can be revoked. Those lease agreements can be torn up or severed by the power that comes from my Father. It's the power that raised Jesus from the dead and sent demons into pigs and resisted temptation in the desert. It's the power every Christian has, the ability to "hold every thought captive" and "resist the devil" and "flee evil" and wield the "sword of the Spirit." We have the name of Jesus, the property owner, our Dad the landlord in our arsenal and at His name "every knee will bow." And, theologically speaking, every untruth will have it's butt kicked. And with the power of the Name we can ask ourselves the toughest questions, delve into the deepest darkest parts of the past and present and bring truth there where the lies growl in he corner. We can close the distance between us and God - God can close that distance for us through us. It's a beautiful mysterious miraculous truth that sets us free. He's always there fighting for us in the unseen battle, ready to fight through us, undetected by the senses.
But not always. Not always undetected. Sometimes He reaches out - and I don't know why - and touches us.
"Shaun, you felt a tiny hand on your back and it woke you from terrible nightmares," she recounted at the end of the tiring battle two weeks ago Wednesday. "And you you turned to that touch, thought it was your child. It was a touch that made you think of someone you love. There was no fear was there?"
"No," I said.
"I believe you really felt a touch. I believe it was real. Whose hand was that waking you?"
"God's hand," I smiled.
I smiled. And I still am.
TO READ THE ENTIRE "TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY" SERIES FOLLOW THE LINKS BELOW:TWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: FRIDAYTWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SATURDAYTWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: SUNDAYTWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: MONDAYTWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: TUESDAYTWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAYTWO WEEKS AGO TODAY: WEDNESDAY Pt.2