Letting Go of Lies

Truth telling had become an emerging theme in my devotions and prayer time. I had even read that the word impeccability means “without sin.” So being impeccable with my words meant I would be without sin in what I said. The more I practiced this concept, the more I realized how very casual I was with my words.

I was especially struck by the next step in “The Work,” which was to go through all the statements and ask, “Is it true?” I had really gotten on a roll, so I had to cross out some of my statements, especially ones that included words like always and never. For example, statements like I was always there for Mary and Mary never offered to do anything for me were clearly not the whole truth. I crossed those out. Then some deeper questions emerged. I had to look at all the statements that included the word should. Whenever I found the words should or shouldn’t, I began to see that there was something wrong with my belief. For example, in that statement Mary shouldn’t have asked so much of me, I began to understand one of the roots of dysfunction in our relationship. Mary could ask whatever she wanted to ask, and I had the right to respond or refuse. The reality was that Mary asked me to help her many times. I was not only happy to do so, but I encouraged her to ask. Our relationship began to be built around her asking and my responding.

Another question from “The Work” is a principle I had already struggled with—one that is a basic tenet of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. The principle, simply put, is this: ask yourself, “Is this my problem or not?” Katie says there are three types of business in the world: mine, yours, and God’s. We have to ask, “Whose business is it?” I went through what I had written, and I began to see another big trend. I had decided to make Mary’s business and God’s business my business. My control tendencies were often lurking beneath the surface.

After going through that round, I was beginning to realize that the statements left standing might be shaky. Katie urges readers to go through the list again, asking, “Can you absolutely know it’s true?” If the answer is yes, a helpful exercise is to follow the statement by saying, “Yes, and it means that ____________.” Suddenly I began to see how I was projecting my own meaning into what I believed to be objective statements. “Mary called me late at night without ever asking if she was bothering me, and it means that she wasn’t considerate of me.” Wait a minute. Mary was a night owl. Mary didn’t wear a watch. Mary was a free spirit who never thought about the time. I was the one who had to get up early. If it bothered me to be called after a certain hour, I should have said something. Or I could have taken the phone off the hook.

Another way to look at these statements is to ask what the proof is that the statement is true. If I were called to testify in a court of law, what evidence could I give for my beliefs about the situation? I know this sounds a bit silly, but I realized that some of my proof was that our friends agreed with me. But did I really ask for their honest opinion, or was I seeking help in soothing my hurt feelings? During the course of my inquiry, I called a mutual friend. “Remember when Mary just stopped talking to me?” I asked her. She hesitated. I pushed. “Don’t you remember how all of a sudden she turned on me?”

After a bit of prompting, my friend said, “Well, I don’t think it was actually so sudden. I remember she started pulling away, and it was hard for you. Remember how she stopped going to lunch with all of us? I think part of the reason was that she needed a little distance from you.”

I felt as if I had been shown a tape of a situation, and the images playing on the screen were completely different than my memory of them. Maybe the breakdown in our friendship hadn’t been so sudden. Of course I remember her not going to lunch with the group, but it had never occurred to me that I was the reason. She had said she was too busy. And she had still called me whenever she needed help. But apparently others saw that she was pulling away from me. Worse, when I asked my friends for feedback about the situation, they could tell that I was asking for comfort, not truth.

Changing Reality After the Fact

I was seeing the power of my self-deception as I went through this process. There are other steps in Katie’s process that may be helpful to some, but the most powerful piece for me was yet to come. After all the testing for truth in “The Work,” Katie then suggests a final step, called “The Turnaround.” Turning the remaining statements around is an incredibly powerful but very difficult part of the process. I can’t do it effectively without much prayer and prompting by the Holy Spirit. So I enter what is called “The Turnaround” only after I have asked the Lord to guide me through it.

Whatever statements remain are now turned around. For example, Mary wasn’t very loyal to me is turned around to I wasn’t very loyal to Mary. My immediate reaction to this was denial and even a bit of frustration. Of course I was loyal to Mary. So I prayed, “Lord, show me if there was ever a time I wasn’t loyal to Mary.” I really meant it, and the Lord answered my prayer. I remembered a time when I had told another friend I couldn’t be somewhere because I had to help Mary. Wow. All of a sudden, I realized that I said things like that to make myself look needed. But was that fair to Mary? Wasn’t I possibly making her look needy,
weak, and vulnerable? It hit me like a ton of bricks. Statement after statement, when I prayed and asked God to show me, turned out to be true of me more than Mary.

All of a sudden, I was faced with an undeniable truth: I was the one who had wronged Mary. I had wanted to feel needed and to appear strong. I had fostered a classic codependent relationship, and she had finally come to the point where she couldn’t stand it anymore. Maybe her actions weren’t perfect, but I was hardly innocent. In fact, much of the hurt surrounding our relationship suddenly presented itself to me as lies I had told myself.

So I did something I could never have imagined doing before. Instead of waiting for the apology from Mary that had never come, I wrote a letter to her. I tried to keep it simple and about me. I apologized for times I had encouraged her dependence on me. I confessed disloyalty and dishonesty. I didn’t go into great detail, but I did tell her that after all this time, I now realized how much I was responsible for the breakdown of our friendship. I asked for her forgiveness for the things I had done. I told her that I didn’t need to hear from her, but if she felt she could forgive me, that would be great.

It would be wonderful if I could tell you that Mary called me and we were reconciled. We weren’t. She sent me a brief note thanking me for my letter. Months before, I would have seen the note as one more indication that Mary was being insensitive to me. But I was not hurt by her response. I had done my part to right the situation, and it was as if what was once a festering wound had been cleaned out and was now able to heal. I was now able to move on.

When Mary’s name comes up occasionally, it causes me no pain. I can think of her without a sense of open-endedness. I have now learned from the pain, and I hope I have learned to be a better friend in the future. God used thatold, open wound to show me some powerful truths about myself. And above all, he showed me that I cannot always be trusted to see myself clearly. 

A New View of Pain

What I learned as I dug out the wound of my old hurt over my friendship with Mary began to take me on a journey that has truly transformed the way I view pain, hurt, and frustration. As I go through the day, I try to stay aware of times when I am bothered by anything that raises what I would call “emotional heat.” For me, that means when my stomach tightens in frustration or when I find myself growing critical or reactive to someone. Often I can’t understand all the implications at the time, but I try to take that moment and set it aside to pray about. Sometimes I note it in my journal.

One day, I wrote, “Joe really irritated me when he called today and demanded that I get a board report ready by next week.”

A few days later, someone commented about Joe, and I found myself thinking negative thoughts about him. There was definitely something about Joe that was bugging me. So I did as I had learned to do: I began to pray about Joe. “Lord, show me why I am having problems with Joe. Show me what he is feeling and thinking so I can understand why he acts the way he does.”

That night, I had a dream about fear. Everyone else in the situation knew what was going on, but I didn’t. I felt overwhelmingly afraid and insecure about what was going on. I kept asking people to tell me what was happening, but no one would talk to me. The next morning, I woke up feeling unsettled — and then I thought of Joe. Could it be that he was acting out of insecurity rather than selfimportance?

The next time I talked to Joe, I decided to think of him that way. When he acted bombastic, I tried to be sympathetic instead of reactive. When he told me he needed something instead of asking me for it, I simply replied that I’d be happy to do it and asked when exactly he wantedit. It was as if I was letting the air out of his tires. By the end of the conversation, his tone had changed and he was confessing his concerns about his job to me. He had been afraid all along, I realized. Instead of butting heads, Joe and I are now allies.

Later, I reflected that part of the reason I had reacted strongly to Joe was that I have the same tendency to make demands on other people when I am stressed. It occurred to me in a moment of holy clarity that the traits that irritate me in others are often the very ones I possess. God was trying to tell me something.

Since then, I have made it a point to try to be aware of any time I am in a situation in which I feel angry, frustrated, critical, or hurt. I know the minute I think, "What’s wrong with that person?" God is usually saying it’s about me. The sins I see so easily in others are the ones I have become best at ignoring in myself. Now every situation that raises my blood pressure I see as one of God’s tools for instructing me.

I don’t want to live the rest of my life as a bitter woman. I want to keep cleaning out the spots in my heart that are prone to anger and frustration. I want to move forward to fulfilling the future that God has for me without being weighed down by the pain of the past.

Click here to read Part I.

Taken from "Second Calling" © 2006 by Dale Hanson Bourke.  Used with permission.  Published by Integrity Publishers, a division of Integrity Media, Inc.  5250 Virginia Way, Suite 110 Brentwood, TN 37027.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other – except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher. 

A graduate of Wheaton College, Dale Hanson Bourke earned an MBA from the University of Maryland and formerly served as editor of Today's Christian Woman magazine and publisher of Religion News Service.  She is now the president of PDI, a marketing and strategy consulting firm specializing in work with nonprofit ogranizations.  Dale lives just outside Washington, DC, with her husband,Tom, and they are the parents of two sons.  For more information, visit www.secondcalling.org.