Once upon a time in a land far, far away a fire-breathing dragon lived high upon the mountain inside the deepest, darkest cave. The dragon’s thunderous roar would spill down the mountain filling the valley with its terrifying sound sending the village’s children running in fear. At night the villagers would see red flashes of fire coming out of the cave from the dragon’s breath. All the villagers lived in trepidation of the monster, but not one word was ever spoken of the fire-breathing dragon that lived high up on the mountain inside the deepest, darkest cave. The villagers and the dragon lived in their own separate worlds though they were so close.
One day a young orphan stumbled into the village dirty and hungry. The kind villagers had pity upon the boy’s lonely plight, so they adopted him as one of their own. He wasn’t anyone’s child, but he was everyone’s child. Every night a different family in the village opened their home for him giving him food and a place to sleep. Nurtured by the villagers’ love, the boy grew to be strong and brave.
Let’s stop that story right here. How does this story end?
We all know that somehow, someway the boy, the villagers and the dragon somehow will end up face to face. Maybe the brave boy ventures up the mountain. Maybe the dragon comes into the village. But one way or another, they will end up face to face.
You know why? Because monsters never stay hidden.
We all have monsters living under our bed, up on the mountain or in whatever crevice we use to keep them hidden. It might be the monster of fear or greed or shame or insecurity or your past. But the thing about all monsters is that they never stay hidden. You can keep your insecurities and your fears to yourself, but given enough time all monsters, all insecurities, all fear, all guilt, all shame will eventually find their way out of their cave.
In his book People of the Lie, Psychiatrist Scott Peck tells the story of George, a troubled but successful salesman in his early thirties. He has a marriage that he’s satisfied with and a troubled childhood that doesn’t seem to be bothering him too much. While on a business trip, George and his wife visit a Cathedral in Montreal. He decides to drop fifty-five cents in an offering box (George isn’t cheap, it was forty some odd years ago). As George drops the coins into the box, a thought shot through his mind.
“You are going to die at the age of fifty-five.”
Two weeks later another thought shot through his mind, but this time it said his demise would be at the age of forty-five. These ominous thoughts continued, becoming more detailed and haunting. Next it was the thought that he would be murdered. Then it was a collapsed roof that would do him in. Then it was the thought that he would never drive across a bridge without dying or a certain excavation site would be were he died.
When these thoughts became more specific, like the bridge or excavation site, George believed that he could overcome these disturbing thoughts by confronting them. If I drive over the bridge or go to the excavation site then I would be freed from the thoughts. He was right. George would get out of bed, drive to the ominous location, conquering the thought, then return home. He would then be able to sleep for the rest of the night, but then the cycle would continue in the morning. Soon he was driving around the countryside all night and getting less and less sleep. Which lead him into Dr. Peck’s office.
The story progresses through three months of counseling with Dr. Peck seeing little progress.
The story peaks during a conversation in Dr. Peck’s office where a seemingly refreshed and rejuvenated George tells Dr. Peck that he’s better now because he has made a deal with the Devil that caused the thoughts to cease. As a rule of thumb, whenever you tell your psychiatrist that you are making deals with the devil, that’s when it’s about to hit the fan. And that’s just what happened. Dr. Peck, after the obligatory dramatic pause, looks at George and drops the unbridled truth upon him.
George you’ve been a coward who has been running from a childhood that’s a mess, a marriage that’s worse than you are willing to admit and a morbid fear of death that’s crippling you. These compulsive thoughts are smoke screens, your brain’s way of dealing with the harder issues from which you are running from. These harder issues, from which you’ve fled, are now haunting you in the form of these obsessions and the compulsions.
All monsters eventually find their way out from under your bed. They don’t always present as the morbid thoughts and compulsions like Scott Peck’s George, but they will pop their ugly head out. The evil self-esteem monster will pop out from under the girl’s bed and will present as rudeness towards the girl who has what she wants. The man plagued by insecurity will eventually have the monster show up as relationally crippling arrogance. He’s so insecure about who he is that he must over-compensate in the hopes of making people accept him, only his monster does the exact opposite. It pushes people away.
My wife and I have had three dogs in a decade of married life, the largest was a one hundred and forty pound American Bulldog named Champ. That beast ate socks, the corners of a hope chest, remotes, more remotes, a Bible (a slight misunderstanding of Jeremiah 15:16) and more. Until we turned to the wise council of Caesar Millian, the dog whisperer, who says that all dogs need three things: exercise, discipline and affection, in that order. What Caesar says is that the dog will continue to torment our home or we could take him out for a walk and give him the exercise he needs.
The way you become friends with the monsters that all of us have hidden away somewhere is by getting them out in the open. Monsters make their money in the dark where shame, guilt and isolation thrive. Phrases like “You are a terrible person because you…” “You are the only one who…” flourish when they can fester in the dark recesses of our hearts. Which is why salvation often occurs when you can bring your dark passenger out into the light.
Denzel Washington’s character in Flight is an alcoholic pilot who (Spoiler alert) against all odds lands a plane with mechanical problems the only way possible, in an empty field upside down. He miraculously saves all but one person on the plane, his flight attendant girlfriend. The same girl that Denzel had been drinking and doing cocaine with a few hours before the flight.
Denzel becomes a hero until the toxicology report shows that he was not only well above the legal blood alcohol limit, but Denzel was also still high on cocaine. Which makes Denzel go from hero to criminal. But Denzel’s high-powered union lawyer finds a loophole discrediting the toxicology report. So all Denzel has to do to stay out of jail is remain sober for the trial and falsely testify that he wasn’t drunk during the flight.
Despite being locked in a hotel room the night before the trial, Denzel somehow gets drunk. But with the assistance of a delivery from his drug dealer, Denzel is functioning in court at the same high-level which enabled him to adroitly land the plane upside down. In a strange twist, the audience, at least this one person in the audience, finds himself rooting for drunk Denzel to hold it together long enough to lie his way through the trial so as to stay out of jail. Denzel does have some charisma.
Denzel is lying is way through the hearing until he’s asked how two bottles of Jack Daniels were missing when the flight hadn’t offered drinks before it crashed. The pre-established answer for this question was to say his late-girlfriend drank them. All that’s standing between Denzel going free is saying a simple lie that dishonors his dead girlfriend.
But Denzel cracks. He admits that he drank them. He was drunk then and that he was even drunk at that very moment.
Why does he break? Because the only thing worse than ending up in jail is to let the monster continue to live under your bed.
When I was in junior high a gentleman from our church responded to the post-sermon invitation. Something that rarely happened, and then something even more rare happened. He stood behind the microphone, pulled out a written statement and began to read. Even my teenage mind knew it was serious if it merited a written statement. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember what happened next. The entire congregation began forming a line and then one after another walked by and shook his hand. It’s one of the most poignant memories from my childhood church experience. He had obviously screwed up pretty good (see: written statement), but what the church did was a beautiful gesture. Four hundred people: men, women, old people, young people, white people and more white people (it was southeast Ohio, not the most culturally diverse area), all came forward to shake his hand. In my teenage mind it was a way of saying that you are still welcomed no matter what you have done. Like I said, it was beautiful.
But that must have been awful for him. Can you imagine your closest four hundred friends walking by, one at a time, looking you in the eye after you confess to making a huge mistake? But you know what the only thing worse than having to make a huge spectacle in front of everyone? Keeping that monster hidden under your bed.