I’ve had several remarkable conversations recently. I made incredible points with decleating rhetoric complete with magnetic emotion. In each case my conversation partner was slow-witted and unimpressive, and more or less faded into the background. I was oratorically indestructible, surprising even myself with my penetrating words and impeccable argumentation. Propositions were concrete and immovable. Illustrations danced and sang. Trust me — you would not have walked away unmoved. I was amazing.
I had these conversations in my head.
I couldn’t tell you that this is an everyday occurrence (I’d have to actively monitor myself to know), but it’s not unusual. Imaginary conversations are surprisingly commonplace. Over the years, I’ve noticed some not-so-subtle things about these conversations.
1. I’m always right. I can’t recall a clear example in which I represented the wrong side (and recognized it). I’m sure it’s happened, but it’s nothing close to the norm. I’m always right. I always side with justice, with righteous revenge often completing the threesome. Like the fresh-faced big-screen lawyer waxing eloquent in his closing argument, I’m standing nobly for righteousness. How could it be otherwise?
2. I always win. This is what makes these conversations so fun. Most of them are competitive. Something is at stake, usually something personal. I have a point to make, an argument to present, a wrong to be righted. And I always succeed. I always win. The dialogue never ends with me acknowledging defeat or correction. You’d think that the lack of suspense would eventually dilute the enjoyment. But it never has. This kind of victory is intoxicating. So I keep drinking.
3. I’m very clever. Like that blog commenter or Facebook status-updater who takes ten minutes to craft a single witty sentence, my cleverness is off the charts in these imaginary conversations. My declarations and comebacks may be as contrived as a bad action movie, but they sound absolutely Spielberg in the moment. Interestingly, it’s also an instant cleverness. All those jabbing comments you usually come up with two hours after the conversation’s over? I think of those on the fly. In these mental dialogues, I have much quicker wit than I actually do in real life. This only adds to the enjoyment. It doesn’t matter that my imagination has created an opponent who is severely outmatched. I don’t mind an underdog. The point is winning, not a fair fight.
4. I’m sarcastic, satirical, and biting. I know the manipulation playbook, and I run every play to perfection. I dodge and weave, use misdirection, create decoys, keep the opponent on his heels, and play smashmouth when necessary (and sometimes even when completely unneeded). Sharp tones and cutting words aren’t just whipped out for an appropriate moment here and there. They’re the name of the game. And I don’t just want to win. I want to silence. I want to humiliate.
5. I use the other person. Whoever I’m talking to basically functions as so many steps on the ladder of my pride. Every word he offers is simply a rung for me to step on as I ascend to take my rightful place on my well-earned pedestal. I create a dialogue that perpetually benefits me, putting words in my opponent’s mouth that merely serve as softballs for me to crush. I don’t allow him to use his best arguments, and I don’t offer a welcoming, diplomatic ear. No, I’m hand-crafting every opportunity to deliver the zinger.
6. I am often selfish, jealous, and bitter. This is what disturbs me most about many of these imaginary conversations. Often I have them with people who I feel have wronged me, or those who I believe have misunderstood or misrepresented me. Sometimes they’re with people I just don’t like for one reason or another (though I usually haven’t identified this, faced the fact, and confessed it to the Lord for what it is). But regardless of the specific scenario, I find that I am often selfish, jealous, and bitter before, during, and after these conversational fantasies. I want to speak the hard words that justice demands; I want to make up for a missed opportunity to tell them what I really think; I want to put them in their place; I want to get something off my chest.
This whole imaginary conversation thing might be funny if it weren’t so heinously twisted. Certainly there are times when I have imaginary conversations because I’m rightfully nervous about a potentially awkward or volatile situation. There are also times when I’m sincerely trying to prepare for an announcement or a presentation or a sermon and I want to hear how different statements sound in my head or out loud. So yes, sometimes I’m engaging in the natural mental exercise of rehearsing. Every guy who’s ever gotten engaged understands that a mental rehearsal can be a healthy, righteous, and loving thing.
Yet it would be a lie to say that these are the majority of my customized mental dialogues (and even these good imaginary conversations are often tainted with selfishness and a desire to impress). Maybe this is just me, or just people who have minds that work like mine. But I would register a guess that there may be more than a few out there who have imaginary conversations on a semi-regular basis.
You may have them in the shower, or in the car during either direction of your commute. They may be with a spouse, a parent, a boss, or a co-worker. They may be conversations you’re planning to have, conversations you’re dreading having, or conversations you wish had gone differently. Often they’ll be conversations that you’ll never have (and shouldn’t have), but you still want the private, selfish, finger-licking delight of giving someone the piece of your mind that you could never (and should never) give them in real life. The variations are frightening.
Jesus told the Pharisees that it wasn’t the food they ate that defiled them, but what came out of their hearts: “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19). I wince when I think about what my imaginary conversations reveal about my heart. You can guess which side of the proverb I see reflected in these conversational fantasies: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Proverbs 15:28).
I would invite you to consider the bitterness, the envy, the scheming, and the unchecked pride that motivates and characterizes so many of my imaginary conversations. And perhaps some of you who stand with me in the ranks of the less sanctified will join in excavating your own hearts. I mourn to think of how much acreage in our hearts must be overgrown with the invisible thorns and thistles of bitterness and wicked scheming, and how much these thorns and thistles must choke out what is good, holy, and loving. This is yet another reason for gratitude to the merciful God who wove these bitter thoughts into a crown of thorns and placed it onto the head of His precious Son so that I might be forgiven and made pure. What better motivation to now live in a loving and kind celebration of that costly purity, even in my imaginations.