Misplacing Myself   7 comments

I was walking in the misting rain today, the dogs pulling eagerly at their leashes to sniff out delights tucked into the roadside weeds, and I was thinking about my long journey back to myself.  At the age of 40 I realized I’d been fast-marching down the wrong road, chasing my false self–the self I thought I should be and could be with a little more effort.  It was not a journey of discovering myself and blossoming into that person God created me to be, but a suppression of my true self and imposition of duty-bound goals.  And as I grew ever farther from my true self, I had only a fabricated self to share with others.

So many of us are like bumper cars trying to connect, but instead deflecting.  “Hi, how are you?” bump, bump.  “Fine, thanks.” bump, bump.  “I had a rough night, but I won’t bother you with that!” smile, bump, bump.  It’s a dangerous place to be without a bumper, so we cushion ourselves well and keep at a safe distance.  As protection, I used tight self-discipline to outshine others, to prove my worth, to earn their respect, and to safely pad the vulnerable parts of my soul from access to others.  If you hide long enough, you lose your orientation and eventually lose yourself.

Who am I really?  Am I a naturally disciplined, organized person, or am I a naturally spontaneous, creative person who has wrapped himself tightly in this cloak of spiritual conformity?  Am I essentially easy-going and relational, or am I hard-driving and goal oriented?  Would I make a better therapist or lawyer?  I worked so long and tirelessly to become the person I thought God demanded, suppressing my true inclinations, desires, and gifts, that I struggle now to recognize the real me.  For the last 14 years I’ve been finding my way back, sloughing off layer upon layer of spiritual accretions that suffocated my spirit and that carefully buffered my friendships.  I still have a long way to go, but at least I’m on the road back to my true self shared in genuine relationships.

I often wonder where I would be now if my true self had been embraced and celebrated and my path had been the natural opening of my heart to a God full of grace and welcome.

Perhaps that’s only possible in an unscarred world.

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Posted September 9, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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7 responses to “Misplacing Myself

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  1. Good word, Kent, good word. Thanks for your hones, gut-wrenching input into my life. Michael Holt

  2. This topic has been on my mind, on-and-off, ever since I did your study on grace a decade-plus ago. It introduced a whole area of balance that I had never thought about before and that has revolutionized my life. But one of the things that keeps coming back to me is that part of “who I am” and “who God made me to be” is a person with a will and the Holy Spirit inside me trying to *transform* me. Admittedly that transformation is into the person God *really* made me to be, but I think that’s a very important distinction. If I take that question “Who am I really?” and live authentically … watch out, world, because there’s going to be a whole trail of wounded and dead corpses (hopefully figuratively/emotionally, but taken to the logical extreme probably literal as well) left behind me…

    For those of us born with a “hyperactive conscience” (a term we came up with while discussing your book in our group) this type of emphasis (in your article) provides a very needed counter-balance. But if it is left by itself without any explanatory text it has the potential to justify a psychopath in the extreme or, in the more realistic world, empower me to live completely selfishly because my personality profile identified me as an introvert and so that freed me from the biblical mandate to love my brother…

    Great article, but I’d love to see some context explicitly laid out…

    • Peter, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad my book on grace was helpful to you. Sometimes folks have your response to my writings, and I’m not quite sure which possible track they are taking. I started out responding by addressing the issue of grace versus law, but the scope of that discussion is simply too great to cover here. I’m not sure how to respond briefly because I think you and I may have fundamentally different worldviews/theologies and that would take a book to outline, not a paragraph. You suggest that “taken to the logical extreme” the principle of living from our authentic selves would lead to mass murder as though someone’s authentic self is essentially flawed. Certainly folks’ understanding of their authentic selves is flawed, and if they try to pursue this defective vision of themselves, they will do harm to themselves and others… precisely because they are being untrue to how they were created–they are being INauthentic.
      I see sin, all sin, as a distortion of our true selves, never as an expression of our true selves. I was raised with the understanding that I had to use the law to suppress the essential, real me, but if my assertion is correct that the real me is an expression of God’s image (and distorted only by sin), then trying to suppress (rather then uncover) that real me is spiritually harmful. I think if I use the “mandate” to love my brother as a curb on my self-expression, it leads to multiple problems. However, if I use the Bible’s vision of a glorious life and community to evaluate how my choices are truly impacting me and whether I am really living authentically, then I can discover inadequacies in my own self-perception. That can correct my understanding of who I really am. For instance, God has made us fundamentally social creatures, we are only whole as individuals when we find our true place in community, and this is true of introverts as well, though each person has a unique way of being part of community. Sin is always self-destructive, that’s what makes it sin, so sinful choices cannot lead to a better expression of one’s self. The converse is also true: living out our true self-expression inevitably leads away from sin not into sin, or in other words, godliness is living out the image of God in me in the way I was created to express it. Our true self was designed for relationship with God, it only functions well in that pursuit. I’m not sure I have answered your question, so please do respond.

      • Yes, you answered my concern. What I was looking for was some mention to show that “being your true self” us not to be mixed up with “do whatever comes naturally”. If someone reads multiple blog entries here that will come clear, but the typical use of social media is a link to a single page and that is it. This particular entry didn’t address what that authentic self is – now your comment does & I think there is less chance of misunderstanding.

      • I realized the “do whatever comes naturally” could be the wrong wording as well. It depends which “naturally” we’re talking about. I could say “being your true self” is not to be mixed up with “doing whatever feels good in the short term.” The difficulty is that although my *real* self (the person God created me to be) is actually my (true) natural self, the fall has made it *really* hard to perceive *that* me. My surface-level emotions SCREAM “you just need time by yourself” and the essential, real me (whispers) that I’m retreating in an unhealthy way. So it is the job of my will to choose to take time and really listen and discern when my emotions are masking that real me (that God created) and when those emotions are the only link remaining to that real me because I’ve bricked up the entrance with all my shoulds and musts…

        The difficulty is a good part of the the same vocabulary is used by some really destructive writers/therapists and it becomes a minefield of potential misunderstandings and miscues…

      • Very good explanation. Yes, discovering our true selves is an arduous, long-term prospect and we can easily be misled by surface emotions that mask what truly lies beneath. Good point. And I am conscious that some folks read only one post and so won’t get the real sense of my perspective, so thanks for commenting.

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