Four Effective Ways to Combat the Lies That Assault You
By Hannah Brencher
That line—you anoint my head with oil—makes me think of a picture of someone sitting in a seat while someone else pours a basin of oil over them, a practice I don’t understand. When you don’t understand, there’s God and Google to take you a level deeper in your faith.
“You anoint my head with oil” is a reference to a shepherd who pours oil over the heads of his sheep through a practice called “backlining.” Daily, sheep have oil poured over their heads and down their backs to protect them from a seemingly harmless enemy—the blowfly. The blowfly is known to fly up the sheep’s nose and plant eggs in its brain. The sheep will become so irritated by the fly that it’ll bang its head against the ground to try to get it out. They can die from trying to relieve the irritation. Thanks to the oil on the head, the flies will slide out instead of flying in.
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How to Beat the Lies That Hold You Back: An Interview with Hannah Brencher]
Here I was thinking anointing the head with oil was a super holy process used on royalty when it’s really a practical, daily method to keep the minds of the sheep right. And the psalmist says this is what God does for us daily. He pours oils over us so our brains are protected. God has never been unaware that our minds can be crazy and dark.
Until these last few years, I never understood the importance of maintaining my mind or checking for the scripts I’m believing or cutting out the lies. I had to wake up and realize I’d have to fight for a healthier brain, and that God joins me in that fight every single day.
But the “anointing the head with oil” thing—what does that look like practically for someone with a mind overrun by hoodlums of fear? What is the “how” in that daily practice? I’m a peddler of practicality when it comes to growing our faith, so I’ll just tell you a few things that worked well for me to uproot the lies and find a better anthem.
Replace Lies with Truth
Whenever I feel anxious or overcome by lies, I engage in a simple practice. I pull out a sheet of paper and write down every lie I am tempted to believe at that moment. The big ones. The small ones. The ugly ones. The hilarious ones. When those lies are sitting on the page, I don’t come back at myself with affirmations, but I go to the place I’ve always gone to find the truth: the Word of God.
I will spend some time looking up passages that directly combat the lie I am tempted to believe. Sometimes I’ll bring the lie out into the light and ask God to show me where it started or to give me a better alternative. It can feel like an arduous task sometimes, but the work is worth it. Little by little and lie by lie, I start to believe a better story for myself. I start to feel freer.
I made my friend Brooke do this with me one day. We ended up lighting candles, playing moody music, and speaking our lies out loud. It was pretty powerful to engage in the process with someone else who knows me well. She and I were able to speak up and say to one another, “That lie is absolutely ridiculous. I know you, and I know you’re good and you’re kind and you get better every single day.”
Give Grace-Filled Pep Talks to Yourself
I have a great capacity to say unkind things to myself and call myself all sorts of bad names. But I’m working on grace and on trying to understand that I’m a gatekeeper for my mind and heart and so I have to use better words when talking to myself and it’s okay to expect better things for my life. If I would not think to use these words on a friend, I’m definitely not going to use them on myself.
I started a practice of giving myself grace-filled pep talks years ago, but I’ve ramped it up in recent times. Before I lived in Atlanta, I lived in Connecticut. The town where I lived had the inconvenient problem of no airports nearby, and I was traveling every week. So every week, I’d wake up at the crack of dawn, throw my luggage in the car in an “I don’t need no man” fashion, drive an hour to the airport, park in some obscure lot, shuttle to the airport, get through security, hop on the first flight—and (without question) always need to hop on a second or third flight because the airport in Connecticut has very few direct flights—and get to my destination to turn around and reverse the process the very next day.
I was just 23 years old and already aging myself by 10 years every time I geared up for another excursion. Add to this that flying on an airplane always comes with its fair share of problems—the airplane is always late or the flight is canceled for no apparent reason or they’re missing a flight attendant and the replacement is 40 minutes from the airport.
The problems are endless and the only way I figured out how to fight the steps that aged me was by learning to coach myself through the steps. I’d say, Okay, babycakes, get up at the crack of dawn; Okay, girl, you’ve made it to the airport; you’ve got this next step; or Hey, babe, you have time to spare, so go get yourself some nuggets. Instead of hating the 12-step airport process, I coached myself through every step with kind words and kind names.
Ask for the Truth
If you surround yourself with truth tellers, then at any given moment, they can swat the flies for you and tell you the truth. On days when fear is having a field day with my thoughts, I ask Lane questions about the fear. “Is this true? Is this accurate? Could this be something I need to pay attention to?” Most of the time the answer is, “No, it’s not true; it’s an irrational thought,” but it helps to hear that from someone who has your best interests in mind.
When the lies are thick, it’s best to not accept them as truth and to turn to reliable people in your life who can give you the real truth and point you back to God. If you don’t have reliable people to tell you anything good, then download an app on your phone where you can listen to the Bible. I’m not kidding about this. The psalms are a great place to start listening because they’re a perfect blend of reality. The psalms don’t shy away from the chaos, but they always end with hope. If your inner critic has nothing nice or kind to say to you, turn on your Bible and let the sweet British narrator speak better words over your life.
Preach to Yourself
In Psalm 42, we read about a person who’s in great distress. He’s crying out to God, and the words of his song are anguished and raw. I encounter such hope when I read this psalm because it reminds me that we always have permission to be honest before God, that he doesn’t need me to sugarcoat things. He wants me in my most real state.
At one point, the psalmist asks himself, “Hey, soul, why are you so down in the dumps? What’s going on inside of you?” I love this part. It took me years to realize that the writer of this psalm is speaking directly to himself. He’s questioning what is going on inside of him. He’s realizing that this dark, thick doubt isn’t God, and he’s speaking boldly to himself to combat the negative thoughts.
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” the author D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes. “Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.” Lloyd-Jones points out that the writer of this psalm treats the ailment by talking back, by essentially saying to the fear, “Listen, you’ve talked long enough, but I am changing the story now. I am talking back, and I am switching the script.”
At any moment, we can choose to start switching the script. The inner critic wants us to stay put and stagnant, but there’s too much on the line to get complacent with these anthems of fear we’ve accepted for too long. What we’re signing up for isn’t a quick fix. Sadly, we cannot order a new mind-set from the drive-through with a side of fries. But day by day, we can make new choices and take new steps.
The story doesn’t end when the heads are anointed with oil. There’s a semicolon there. The sentence isn’t over. The psalmist goes on to write, “My cup overflows.” The promise for you and me is overflow. I know that feels hard to believe sometimes, but what if we just decided to say to ourselves, “I am choosing to believe in the overflow instead of the scarcity of my fear. I am choosing better thoughts—moment by moment—and I give myself loads of grace for the days I don’t get it right. I am choosing to switch the script when the fear tries to hold me back because there are better anthems for me, and I am going to sing those anthems out loud.”
We were made to sing better anthems, and every anthem starts with a single note.
Adapted from Fighting Forward: Your Nitty-Gritty Guide to Beating the Lies That Hold You Back by Hannah Brencher. Click here to learn more about this book.
Fighting Forward is the empowering anthem you need to take the next small step to a better life.
At the darkest point of a life-altering depression, Hannah Brencher took a silver marker and labeled a composition book “Fight Song.” In that little notebook, she poured hope-filled truths and affirmations, knowing that one day, she—and you—would need a reminder to stay in the fight. Drawn from those glow-in-the-dark words, Fighting Forward is your empowering invitation to show up, claim hope, and take back your life one small win at a time.
Popular blogger, viral TED Talk speaker, and founder of The World Needs More Love Letters, Hannah shares personal stories of developing daily rhythms and sustainable faith in a culture of hustle. With a heap of hope for those who long to move from anxiety and fear into action steps, the power-ballad essays in this book will encourage you to savor the milestones you’ve already reached, root yourself in the next small step, welcome healthy routines into your day, and apply grace like sunscreen in the process of your own becoming.
Fighting Forward champions the truth that each song starts with a single note. With trust and a little time, each note and every small step adds up to a victorious anthem of showing up to this life and staying in the fight to become who God made you to be.
Hannah Brencher is an author, blogger, TED speaker, and entrepreneur. She founded The World Needs More Love Letters, a global community dedicated to sending letter bundles to those who need encouragement. Named as one of the White House’s “Women Working to Do Good” and a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service, Hannah has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Oprah, Glamour, USATODAY.com, the Chicago Tribune, and more. Find Hannah at hannahbrenchercreative.com.
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