Middle-born children are supposed to be people-pleasers, and I have reason to believe it. As far back as I can remember, I tried to give people the right answer to any questions they might ask me, including questions about myself — the right answer being whatever I thought was expected of me. I tried to convince others (and myself) that the right answer was the truth.
When I was little, Mom printed my name for me in all capitals, and I would copy it letter by letter. One day I was sitting on my floor in front of a dresser. I had a ballpoint pen in my hand, and inspiration hit: maybe I could write my name without looking at the model. Absolutely oblivious to the damage I was doing, I scratched “JANICE” into the front of a drawer.
When Mom saw the writing, she naturally asked me how it got there. This question triggered my right answer mechanism. I realized that I should not have written on that drawer, but was not smart enough to tell the truth. I tried to blame it on my older brother who, even if he had wanted to carve my name into the furniture, which he didn’t, would have done a much neater job of it.
Another memory is of a discussion in my second-grade Sunday School class: the teacher asked us multiple-choice questions about what we would do in various situations. One question involved seeing some trash left in a neighbor’s front yard. Obviously, “I would pick up the trash” was the right answer, so that’s the one I gave. In reality I would have been too shy to go into a neighbor’s yard even if I had dropped something there myself, let alone barge in and pick up strange trash. But I wouldn’t admit it in a million years.
I’m not a compulsive liar; normally I am meticulously honest, not taking so much as a paper clip that isn’t mine. So why on earth did I lie? As near as I can figure, I would have to call it insecurity. I wanted to be right and good, and the only way I could see to achieve that was to look right, to look good. If there was a right answer, I had to already know it — or I at least wanted you to think I already knew it. Again, it’s not that I intended to deceive; it was more that I hoped saying the right answer would somehow make it true. (Well, except for that first one when I tried to blame my brother. That was just a flat-out lie. Still, wishful thinking was involved.)
Somewhere along the way, though, something happened that helped break the cycle. One of the right answers I had been giving was, “Yes, I have received Jesus as my Savior.” I wanted to be a Christian, as people thought I was, but I had never taken the necessary step of faith. My self-remedy for the emptiness and fear that haunted me was to fake faith and assurance. It didn’t work. Finally, I accepted Jesus’ offer to forgive my sin and give me eternal life. When I did, He took all my “wrongness” away and credited His rightness to my account instead. That was when the right answer also became the true answer. I feel much more comfortable in my own skin since then. I have no more confidence in myself than before, but I have confidence in Him. Now I can learn from others, and even ask questions — in public! I seldom worry about appearing imperfect. When necessary I can look someone in the eye and say, “I just made the dumbest, most colossal mistake…”
But that old, insecure nature still crops up at times.
When my sons were young I called the Crayola company with a question. After answering it, the customer service lady wanted to ask me a survey question, and I agreed. It went something like, “Many people are under the impression that our crayon color ‘Indian Red’ refers to the skin color of Native Americans. The name actually refers to a dye used in India. Did you think it referred to Native Americans?” My whole childhood passed before my eyes. I had ALWAYS assumed that “Indian Red” was intended for coloring Native Americans (which we still called “Indians” back then). I used “Indian Red” every November for my First-Thanksgiving Indians, all the way through elementary school, even though I privately doubted that anyone’s skin had that intensely brownish-red color in real life. Did I admit as much to this total stranger, whom I would never meet and who didn’t know or care who I was? Of course not. What I did manage to say (in my shock at learning the true meaning of “Indian Red”) was something like, “Oh — why, no, I (ahem) didn’t think that…”
Call it a flashback. But at least I can admit it.
Thanks for reading!