Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Feb. 29, 2012. At the time of publication, Sayles was pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville, North Carolina.
We’ve all heard, “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.”
As worn out as that cliché surely is, it still serves to remind us of one of the most common dances we use to two-step around the truth about ourselves and the world – the denial dance.
You can pretend not to know that eating ice cream every night and doughnuts most mornings will eventually make you heavier.
The suit comes back from the dry cleaner, you try to fasten the pants, discover you can’t and then complain that whatever new process they’re using these days shrinks your clothes.
The bathroom scales must be going bad; there’s no way you’ve packed on five pounds in a month. Avoid mirrors. Refuse to look at any pictures of yourself. It’s a kind of denial.
Denial happens when you refuse to acknowledge the increasing distance between you and someone you love.
Deafen your ears to the weary strain in his voice and the yearning for tenderness in his words.
Turn your eyes away from the lines of worry on her face and the dull sadness and dim resignation in her eyes.
Tell yourself you’ve done nothing wrong. Fail to notice how your life orbits, more and more, around your own ego.
Force yourself to forget how your harsh words have shoved him away or how your unrealistic and unrelenting expectations have pushed her into isolation.
Overlook his earlier and extra drinks.
Never make the appointment to follow up on the tests the doctor ordered.
Tell yourself it doesn’t mean anything that your daughter spends a lot of time in the bathroom after each meal and that she’s lost a lot of weight in the last year.
Denial is what you do when you fold up the progress report and stuff it in the bottom of your book bag without looking at it, don’t mention it to your parents and are grateful the school doesn’t email grades directly to mom or dad.
Denial is the dance you do when you discount the memo from your boss, which mentions how she hopes you can pick up the pace on that project she assigned you because you missed the deadline for the first review.
“No big deal,” you tell yourself. “When we talked about it, she understood how complicated it is and how busy I’ve been. She was nice. If she was really upset, she wouldn’t have been so nice.”
Denial is what you do when you don’t open the letter from the IRS and don’t return phone calls from the bank that holds your mortgage.
Denial is something we all do, and it hurts us all. It short-circuits growth, robs us of joy and interferes with freedom.
One of the great uses of Lent could be for us to deny our denial and come to terms with the truth.
What would happen to us and in us if we considered giving up some of our illusions about ourselves and the pride that keeps those illusions in place? What if we stopped the charade, took off the mask and put down our pretensions?
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
What if we let ourselves experience the rush of freedom that comes to us when we risk seeing, hearing and feeling the truth? What if we slowed down enough to listen, really listen, to what life, the Spirit and our hearts are saying to us?
What if we asked people we trust to hold up a mirror to our lives and help us see who we are, here and now, in all our possibility and pain with all our potential and problems?
What if we resolved that, whatever the cost, we’re going to hear the truth spoken to us in love and allow it to liberate us for life as it was meant to be?