Among other books, she is the co-author, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, of Lies Young Women Believe, a revealing study about the false beliefs that many young women today have allowed to shape their lives in negative ways.
We spoke with Gresh recently about how people can readjust their priorities and start believing the truths that are found in the Bible. Here is the conversation:
Q/ How do lies manifest themselves in people’s lives?
A/ Anytime they’re living contrary to scripture, people are believing a lie, which is much easier to see when you’re looking at someone else’s life and not your own.
I have seen the consequences of lies in people’s lives: depression, broken relationships, stress. Those kinds of things really point to something being disordered in their lives. Almost always, things like repeated unhealthy relationships with men were due to some kind of a root lie, and if you could get to the root, which was the lie, then you could change.
One young woman we worked with had panic attacks every night of her life for 15 years. She finally asked some friends to pray with her about what might be causing these bouts of fear.
She traced it back to 7th grade; it was the year of her parents’ divorce. All the panic attacks were preceded by dreams where she was left alone. She was afraid of abandonment. Her panic attacks were reactions to underlying beliefs that simply weren’t true.
She was able to replace those lies with scriptural truths like “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5 and Hebrews 13:5, NIV). She continued to meditate on those verses as she began to reprogram her thinking. For the first night in over a decade she was able to sleep.
Lies are not easy to find, especially alone. It almost takes someone else. The very nature of a lie is that it is deceptive. We don’t recognize it or believe that it is there or know that it is there.
It is so important that you find a biblical resource to strengthen your muscle, and look at scripture to apply it to the lies in your life. After you start practicing, you are going to find that it becomes more natural.
Q/ In your research with thousands of teenage girls, were you surprised to find what some of the most prevalent lies were? Which one surprised you most?
A/ There were two things: One is we went to different communities, and on many occasions, the youth leaders would leave discouraged. They were bringing us their cream-of-the-crop kids; these are the girls who are active in the youth group, and yet they were believing some really scary things. They were believing lies about beauty, performance, and guys.
The people closest to these girls were unaware of the depth of their struggles.
Two, I was surprised how the change in the culture. Shifting to a media culture is creating a dichotomy in these girls. They can be one person online and a different person at home or at church. They write profanity online or in their text messaging conversations. They were commonly looking at mildly pornographic material.
They were likely to post photos that they hoped their mothers would never see, slightly teasing photos. They were likely to be mean, to tell a girl she stinks or to say mean-girl things that they would never say in-person, and they think this is OK. It is not OK; it is double-minded. God does not care much for double-mindedness.
It was really difficult territory to navigate through. Double-mindedness is not the way God would have you walk. While they think it is OK to be two people, that is a big battleground for us as we work with teens.
Q/ One of the first lies that you expose is the belief that God is not enough. Many people believe this lie even though they might not want to admit it to themselves. How can we learn otherwise?
A/ Any of these lies are unlearned by feasting on scripture. We unlearn the lie by feasting on truth. The lie we have feasted on is the world’s mentality. For women, it is, “If only I had a nicer house, then God would be enough,” “If only I had a husband,” or “If only my husband could be a certain way.”
For teens it is usually rooted in friendships. Our values are taken from the world, this media-saturated world. So on Facebook, they have to have 500 friends.
And then women live in a world where you have to have a big house and two cars. If you look through scripture, you find verses that say, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25) – verses that talk about how God is enough.
So they learn, even if I don’t have the most friends, I have God, and He is enough. You change your appetite and what you are devouring.
A great example is an eating disorder in a young woman, an obvious manifestation of lies that she is believing about herself. She probably is a subscriber to fashion magazines and might have pictures from them in her locker. They hang pictures of skinny girls all over their walls.
If you start filling her with scriptural truth about her beauty and how God created her, not an unattainable standard, we find a quicker response rate.
Q/ Another lie about life is that people have to perform to be worthwhile. Many parents today teach this: Their kids have to make straight As, etc. How can you unlearn something that you’ve learned from your family, namely, that what you accomplish defines you?
A/ The truth is that our value is determined by our existence. God says in Isaiah “I need nothing from you. You can do nothing to earn My approval. ‘every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills’” (Psalm 50:10).
God is saying, “Let Me rescue you; I created you.” God wants us to manifest His love and be the feet of Jesus Christ.
Look at women in church doing, doing, doing. When are they sitting at the feet of the Savior and just being? Then they could serve out of the fullness of that sitting and resting,
Our teens are living in the consequences of that example. They’re getting up 6 a.m. They are at after-school sports events because they want to get that on their resume.
The performance lie that 80 or 90 percent believed is that their value in their parents eyes–and their value in God’s eyes–came from what they did.
One of the lies is that it is far more valuable to have a career outside of the home than to be a wife and a mom. Christianity Today did a survey just last year that showed 47% of born-again evangelicals think that it is harmful to emphasize the role of being a wife and mom.
When did it get the point where we didn’t value the beauty of being a wife and mom? We have terribly stressed-out women who are unable to meet the demands of the world. They’re not slowing down and just being at the feet of God. The result is stress and panic and not being satisfied.
Q/ Another lie that is easy to believe is that only beautiful people are worth something. We see beautiful people celebrated on the news, in magazines, and online. How can we learn to see ourselves as beautiful in the eyes of God?
A/ One of the first things is to realize that the stars, the beautiful people, are not nearly as beautiful as the magazines portray them. At a recent Pure Freedom conference, we shamelessly took pictures of stars without makeup. Then we showed them.
The stars don’t look like the stars; they have pores and zits and wrinkles and belly bulges. The picture-perfect image that we have of them is unattainable even for them.
Then you have to go back to the Word. 1 Peter says “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment … Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4). True beauty is what is on the inside.
If you spend more time in front of the mirror making your external self beautiful, you’ll never feel it. If you spend more time on the inner beauty than the outer beauty, you’ll start to think, “Oh, I’m good with how I’m created.” Inner beauty has to come first. They’ve got to saturate themselves with God’s truth.
Q/How can people readjust priorities so they don’t spend so much time online or watching TV, the places where these lies can be born?
A/ It comes down to your appetite being out of control. When I just want to grab People magazine and see what everybody looks like, as radical as this sounds, I really think that one of the ways you get yourself under control is by doing a media fast, just abstaining from TV and magazine or whatever is really eating away at my heart’s ability to perceive truth.
For ten days or a month, I’m going to turn the TV off. I’ve done this many times, and at the end of it, my appetite is under control. I don’t have to have it; I’m not craving it. I’m going to read a Bible or read a book. I don’t need to pick up Oprah magazine.
Just withhold them for a while and feast on the Word, and you’re going to find that those appetites dissipate.
Q/ Ruth Bell Graham was a strong woman, a role model for women of all ages today. She was talented and smart, but very spunky and not afraid to tell the truth, not timid.
At the same time she was a great servant of Christ and a devoted wife and mother. How can young women develop strength and confidence but also become servant-hearted followers of Jesus Christ?
A/ I have just grown up on Billy Graham Crusades on TV. When Billy Graham was coming to New York a few years ago it was said it would be his last, such a critical Crusade. Forty-eight hours before that event, I called my mom and said, “This is our chance.” We were in the car in a few hours.
In those years of watching Billy Graham we always had our eye on his wife, so of course when the Celebrating Ruth Bell Graham TV Special came on last year, mom and I said, “Let’s watch this together.” We just watched it, and we cried and laughed. It was just such a good spiritual cleansing and inspiration.
I do think Ruth Graham’s grit and her spunk is such a vital component of being a contemporary woman. She had a strength. It took strength for her to embrace the role of being a mother of five children, a helpmate and woman who lays down her life for her family. She had power and tenacity, but also that gentleness.
Every woman should find a role model like that. You need to find someone in your church, in your community, and say, “I want to be near you. I want to learn from you. I want to watch.”
There is a woman like that in my church, and I’m near her enough to copy her and watch how she leads. That gives me the ability to lead. Usually that comes from volunteering to serve her and be under her.
Dannah Gresh is the bestselling author of “And the Bride Wore White” and co-founder of Pure Freedom, a ministry equipping men and women of all ages to live vibrant lives of purity.