Why Worry?

When it comes to the landscape of my mind, worries grow like weeds. Ridding my thoughts of fear, doubt, or anxiety does not come easily for me. I’ve always had a tendency to entertain worry. It was my first imaginary … Continue reading

The Lies Most of Us Tell

One of the first values we teach children is honesty, so why do adults lies so often? Why are lies such a common component of our daily lives and conversations? At one time or another we’ve all been dishonest, but lying is still something we’re quick to condemn others for. Look at how happily the media indicted and ridiculed one of their own for a lie he told. I’m not excusing his dishonesty, but his punishment seemed hypocritical. We’re all imperfect. We have all distorted the truth. It’s a vice we all share, so why do we act so surprised or judgmental when others do it?

True, not all lies are created equal. They come in different sizes and are told for different reasons. Some lies are nefarious and giant. They’re designed to hide big crimes. They’re told to obfuscate large sins. They cover infidelity, inequality, and brutality. They start wars, suppress freedoms, and spread hate like an airborne disease.

The lies most of us tell, however, come in smaller, daily doses. How often do you tell someone you can’t when what you really mean is you don’t want to?

Sometimes we lie because we prefer to do what’s easy rather than what is right. If telling the truth is climbing a steep flight of stairs, lying is gliding down a slide. For some of us, lying becomes like gravity. It’s a force at work in our lives, and we mostly respond to it without thinking.

Some of us lie to fit in. We trim our morals down to a more comfortable and portable size. We take the heat out of our convictions so they’ll be more palatable. We mince our words so others will find them easier to swallow.

Honesty can be expensive. It can cost us someone’s favor or friendship. It may force us to surrender an illusion we’ve held—of our world, someone else, or of our self.

Oftentimes we lie out of fear. We’re frightened the truth will harm someone we care about. We tell ourselves we’re lying to protect them—that the lie is harmless, but the truth would hurt. We don’t want them to suffer, so we lie and call it love. But lies build a faulty foundation, and dishonesty smothers genuine affection.

If I’m not afraid of honesty hurting you, then I fear it will hurt me. I worry that you’ll kill the messenger or see me as an adversary.

We’re afraid of what others will think of us if we’re completely honest. We don’t want to sound stupid, so we pretend to understand things we don’t. (One of the hardest truths for me to utter is, “I don’t know.”) We don’t want to look weak, so we mask our feelings. We lie to minimize our flaws or embellish our strengths. We lie to seem richer, busier, happier, or more important.

Lying is often an act of self-preservation. Sometimes we are trying to preserve the image of ourselves we want others to see. Sometimes we wish our lies were the truth—like offering congratulations while feeling apathy or envy. We hope that by uttering the lie we’ll transform it into reality.

I’d be lying if I said I’m always honest. I want to be a truthful person, but sometimes I find myself lying like a reflex—even when the stakes are very small. I know I’ll never be perfectly honest, but hopefully I can at least keep moving in that direction. Step one is to learn my lying habits and then address them. Who am I trying to impress? What am I trying to prove? Am I acting like someone I’m not or attempting to avoid a punishment or rebuke?

From a very young age we’re told lying is wrong. And then these white lies creep into our world. They’re disguised as being polite or kind. That was delicious! I’d love to help you move! You don’t look fat in that dress (as if fat can’t be beautiful). I wish I could make it, but I’m busy that day. Yes, you do have the world’s cutest baby. I’m sorry. I don’t mind. I’m not worried. I’m not mad. I can’t eat this whole dessert on my own. You’re not bothering me. I’m comfortable.

Why do we call them white lies? Are they pure or innocent? Are they soft like cotton or delicate like snow? Are they completely innocuous?

White lies are still betrayals. Even small lies can do harm. And perhaps, and worse of all, small lies make bigger lies necessary—or at least possible.

The truth is often hard, but it doesn’t have to be cruel. Honesty can be gentle just as lies can wound. Truth delivered in love might still hurt or sting, but I find it’s those truths that have been sharpened by lies that are the most cutting.

Fear Is a Liar

I have always felt different: I’m the shortest of my siblings. I was the only black kid in my class for six out of thirteen years. I was one of the few (if not the only) kid on my block leaving my neighborhood to attend a private school. I have often been (or felt like) the only Christian in the room. I have felt different because of how I look (veiny arms for a woman, too much weight and too many curves when I wanted to be a ballerina, my overbite). But mostly I feel different because of the thoughts that enter (uninvited) into my brain and the fears (though unwelcome) that I begrudgingly entertain.

Every now and again I will let an ordinary occurrence engender a dark daydream. For example, just the other evening I was walking down the street as two men smoking cigarettes were walking towards me. And for some reason I wondered the following: What if one of them decided to put his cigarette out in my eye? I don’t know where that thought came from or why, but there it was as they passed me by. Thankfully, worries like that are usually short-lived, but I wish they didn’t exist.

I’m afraid of so many things. I fear the call at an odd hour is bad news. I’m afraid of the dark—black hole dark—the kind of deep dark that doesn’t even permit shadows. I’m afraid of dying (especially painfully or violently), but sometimes I find the concept of living forever almost equally terrifying. I’m afraid of flying, falling, and crashing. I’m afraid of not trying, of failing, and of succeeding. I’m afraid of getting hurt—emotionally and physically. I’m afraid of never living up to my mother’s legacy—or of living a life that leaves no good mark—or one devoid of meaning. And given the fraught final years of my grandparents’ lives, I’m afraid of what my old age will look like. Mostly I’m afraid I’m getting it all wrong, that I’m wasting time, and that (given the missteps I’ve made) there’s no good way forward—no way to recover.

If I could set aside any aspect of my humanity, I would disown my fear. That emotion drives me in directions I do not want to go. It keeps me inactive or slows my progress to a crawl. It renders me distracted—preoccupied with potential pitfalls and worst-case scenarios (however unlikely or unrealistic).

Fear of what awaits prevents me from more fully engaging in whatever (or whoever) is before me in the present. Fear of embarrassment or failure stops me from taking more chances. Fear of being misunderstood, dismissed, or disliked makes me hold my tongue. I withdraw from certain experiences for fear of getting hurt.

When I don’t act or take a risk, it is usually because of fear disguised as wisdom. When I don’t dream—when I hang back from an opportunity, it is because of fear clothed to look like being realistic or practicality.

Fear stills my hands, binds my feet, and shackles my tongue. Fear turns my head away form my hopes and dreams and focuses my eyes on the worst-case scenario. It nails my aspirations to the ground. Fear persuades me to expect the worst even in the midst of the best. Fear denies me peace and sound sleep—it won’t allow for a moment of rest.

I have spent my lifetime learning how to undermine my fears—to shine a light on them until they disappear. At first they look mountainous, but in the face of faith and logic, few of them stand up.

All too often my fear is a liar. It pretends to be prudence. It acts insurmountable. But most of what I fear can’t or won’t ever be real. There is little foundation or substance to much of what scares me. Most of my fears are more rooted in dysfunctional imagination than reality.

Every time I set aside a fear I become a bit more free. Without fear, I enjoy things more deeply. Without fear I can more fully inhabit the present. Without fear, I don’t have to worry about what others think, and so I speak and act with more honesty.

Fear will come from time to time; it is a natural emotion. What I’m trying to avoid is giving fear too much control. There are a few fears that might save my life, but surrendering too much to fear will shrink my living down to an unhealthy size.

Fear & Worry

Sometimes I feel as though fear and worry have entered my head like a pair of spiders and spun a web of anxiety that catches hold of my other emotions––my hopes and dreams as well––keeping them all stuck until they’re sucked lifeless. Fear is not always the primary emotion. Quite often it is mixed with other hues and colors––the grayed blue of sadness or a fiery shade of anger.

My fear is inversely proportional to my faith. If I believed more (in God, others, myself) I’m sure I’d worry less. Too often I am so focused on some frightful, imagined future, that I am blind to the benefits and blessings of the present. I worry about today’s decisions because I am trying to protect myself (or someone else) from some future consequence that isn’t guaranteed to occur. I’ve replaced the imaginary friends of my youth with many imaginary outcomes (and they’re almost always ominous).

I let fear and worry get in my way a lot. They hold me back from making decisions and changes or taking risks. What I fear is often hypothetical (and unlikely), but even knowing that, I still see it as an obstacle. And if I don’t overcome it, trepidation keeps me immobilized when I need to start making progress.

What do I fear? I fear loosing more of my loved ones. I’m afraid that I’m too insecure and too over-confident. I fear that my right leg will always be smaller than my left. I fear that I will fail in achieving my dreams—and that my failure will not be the result of rejection or a lack of ability, but of defeating myself with weapons of self destruction—that I’ll talk myself out of trying. I fear that I don’t know the way. And while I suspect God is calling me to focus on and follow the sound of his voice, I fear I’m not really listening. I’m afraid that I’m afraid of too many things, and that my fears get in the way of my living.

Sometimes I’m afraid of failure; sometimes I’m afraid of success. I’m as fearful of being utterly miserable as I am of being blissfully content. When things are going well for me, I worry that the good will end abruptly or that it will elicit jealousy from others. When things are bleak, frustrating, or disappointing, I fear that it will always be like this.

I’m afraid of the dark—the type of dark that’s so complete is leaves no room for shadows. I’m afraid that I, myself, am the biggest obstacle standing in my way. I’m afraid that I don’t really know what I want—or that what I want is bad or wrong for me. I fear that fear will rob me of my other feelings.

I’m afraid of rats, roaches, skydiving, being in a serious car accident, going to outer space, submerging in a submarine, putting my head in an MRI machine, and loosing my car keys. (I don’t have a spare set.) I’m also afraid of being robbed, witnessing a shooting, and being convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. I used to be afraid of falling into a pit of quicksand, but I’ve come to realize the unlikelihood of that.

My two cats (Carrie and Mr. Big) have taught me a few things about fear and overcoming it. When I first brought them home, I had to mediate a peaceful encounter between them and Joey, my sister’s dog. My initial instinct was to hold the kittens and let Joey approach them. I tried with Mr. Big first.

My method failed, and I soon figured out why. I knew the kittens would be safe in my arms and that Joey wasn’t a threat to them, but they didn’t. I then realized it made more sense to hold Joey back because he already knew and trusted me. So for attempt number two, I wrapped my arms around Joey to keep him stationary, and let the kittens comes as close as they dared to. Within minutes, Carrie and Joey were fast friends. Mr. Big, somewhat scarred (emotionally) from my failed experiment, eventually came around as well.

This is what I learned from that: Always give the more fearful thing the freedom of flight. When introducing two non-equals (e.g., a dog and a kitten), hold the “beast” back. Sometimes I wonder if God does this for us. I suspect that when we find ourselves up against a brutish reality and we feel vulnerable and exposed—as though God’s hands aren’t under or around us, it is because He is holding back our enemy and giving us the freedom to move. We can flee, we see that God has bound our adversary, or we can approach and realize the monster we once feared is benign or just a big, friendly puppy.

I have to regularly remind myself that God is much bigger than any of my fears or other mental demons. Nothing is beyond His reach or His power. The worst I can imagine isn’t more than God can handle—and it’s also very unlikely to happen.

I don’t want to live in fear. On the surface it looks like I’m being practical, but sometimes “being practical” is just a shiny façade covering over fear and dulled faith. I don’t want to remain boxed in by the weakness of my belief or shackled by my limited view of what’s possible. I don’t want fear to be the part of my imagination that I have the easiest time believing or that gets the most use.

I don’t know what is out there behind each of my fears and worries or beyond the limits of what I can see and dream, but I have a feeling that only by leaping will I acquire the faith the leap.