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.
8 thoughts on “Imaginary Conversations”
Fantastic words! I am truly not a crazy person! Thank you!
That said, I do find your article extremely honest and exemplary.
How can a person EVER distinguish a conversation with an imaginary person from a conversation with an imaginary god? I’m very concerned for your sanity…and mine…my family’s…etc. Seems to me that prayer ALL takes place in our little heads, assumes for ourselves a rather privileged position in the universe, and rather than getting any traction by conversing with real people, we “imagine our own version of god” and do the speaking for him. Not healthy, nor helpful in assessing reality.
Thanks for both of your comments. In response to your first, it appears that you’ve presumed your point before making it. That is, your first sentence assumes that “god” is “imaginary,” and your second sentence instantly questions the collective sanity of anyone who believes in something so clearly imaginary. But since you put yourself in that group (“I’m very concerned for your sanity…and mine…my family’s…), I’m not sure precisely where you stand. I’d be interested for you to clarify and then continue the dialogue with a clearer idea of what point you’re attempting to make and what exactly you do believe about God.
To clarify from my end, I believe in the God of the Bible and in Jesus Christ His only Son who died on the cross to atone for our sins, rose from the dead to conquer sin and death, and is coming again to rescue His people and judge the world. Such belief is surprisingly reasonable and explicable, as well, if you’re interested to dialogue. After all, we agree that we have imaginary conversations that tend to be bitter and biting. That’s just one little piece of the evidence that reveals just how badly out of whack we are compared to who we were created to be. We need redemption and transformation, and that’s not at all unclear for those who simply live awhile with their eyes open.
Thanks for this. In my imaginary conversations, I’m always explaining myself or arguing. I’m always the center of attention. People are always listening intently. For me, I think.., my imaginary conversations tell of my longing to be known by people, when I really should seek intimacy with God.
thank you for this. I was searching the web for answers on my imaginary conversations. None satisfied me because none were applying the Word to the answer. However 80% of my conversations are getting over the fear of speaking a testimony type conversation when I have a revelation from God’s Word. But I do still have many conversations where I am right, and it is putting someone down and in there place and even using His Word to do so. I am grateful for you writing on this topic because now I will reconize when I do have those very selfish conversations because its like that song “It’s a slow fade….” and that 20% could be 45% in a year and I would have never realized it or what I was doing in my head. God is awesome for bringing me to this post.
“Ouch,” she said not in imagination but in stark reality. Yet more reason to loudly pray, Lord, help me take every thought captive to your Word and your Truth.
You hit me with all six of those identifiers. And recently, I’ve started having imaginary conversations I wish I had had years ago. Not a good sign at all.