Holding Your Breath in Denial by Jane Dibbern

Let me introduce you to today’s guest blogger–my friend, Jane Dibbern. Jane has been a mentor of mine for many years and I wrote about her in a blog post titled, Chicks I Dig. I love Jane’s ready laughter and willingness to dish about episodes of Downton Abbey or Mad Men. But more importantly, Jane is a teacher gifted with biblical wisdom; a strong-minded leader with a heart for women, parenting, strengthened relationships and a healed world. I thank her for sharing a bit of her wisdom here, in her own words…

photo by Angela Johnson

photo by Angela Johnson

Growing up, I lived in towns that sat beside the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers. When you live in a river town you spend a lot of time on bridges. Back then, bridge decks had metal grids. That meant you could see the river running below and your tires made this humming sound of danger as you drove across. Because of that, bridges made me a bit anxious. To combat the anxiety, I decided that as soon as the car hit the bridge, I would hold my breath. In my 5-year-old brain, I thought if I held my breath, I wouldn’t weigh anything and that would mean there would be less weight on the bridge and the chances the bridge would fall into the river would be lessened. Okay, I was an anxious kid, alright? Anyway, for many years I held my breath every time I crossed a bridge. Even today, when I drive across the Wakota Bridge over the Mississippi River, I wonder if I should hold my breath.

I think I held my breath because I wanted to deny feelings of fear. Denial gave me a sense of control. I was able to rationalize and then justify my breath-holding decisions. Denial is easy to slip into. We want to believe all is well and not acknowledge or face our problems. There is a great term for that. It’s called idealistic distortion, meaning we believe it is easier to hold our breath and hope that we’ll get to the other side. The only problem with breath-holding denial is that the bridge is still there, the river still runs underneath and holding my breath only leaves me breathless, not weightless.

So what things do I deny? Many things. My pride drives part of my denial. But if I pretend my marriage, my kids, my work, my house, and my family are all under control, then I am a fool who is almost out of breath. As a Christ follower, it’s not easy to admit the days and weeks that slip by without a single glance at God’s Word, or that sometimes I have negative, judgmental opinions about people. What if my friends knew that some days I get too busy to pray?

I believe the biggest driver of denial is fear. Therapy taught me to think differently about fear and to catch it before it makes me want to hold my breath (or deny its existence). I’ve had to learn to be brave and courageous and learn to ask for what I need from the people around me and from God.

photo by Angela Johnson

photo by Angela Johnson

From God’s Word (Bible), I’ve learned strength and trust from the Psalms, boldness and confidence from the writings of the Apostle Paul, and encouragement and forgiveness from Jesus; something I’ve also learned from family and friends.

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth (or bridges?) give way, and mountains (bridges?) fall into the heart of the sea (the Mississippi?) though its waters roar and foam and mountains quake with their surging.” -Psalm 46:2-3 New International Version (and Jane)

Oh yeah, about those fears I had about rivers; listen to this~

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her (a bridge?), she will not fall ; God will help her (Jane) at break of day.” Psalm 46:4-5 New International Version (and Jane)

Okay, theologians, I know I may have stretched scripture a bit, but if those verses helped me breathe and face life without denial – I think God is probably okay with that.

Think about the denials in your life next time you cross a bridge. Don’t hold your breath—instead take a deep breath, say no to denial and trust the bridge.

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