Bella well remembers the feeling or maybe the sense of not knowing everything about herself and wondering if she could handle it if she did. And worse than that, what if someone else knew a part of her that was super ugly and told her someday? She was sure it would be devastating.
Coupled with these wonderings was the belief that there was only one wrong or right answer about anything. When she would see something one way and someone else saw it another way, it was very upsetting. If the other person was wrong, he or she didn’t know it and how could Bella ever hope to help them see? If she was wrong, what else was she wrong about? It all seemed very confusing and it impacted Bella’s tendency to gain her sense of self from how others reacted to her or what they said about her.
She had entered the evangelical world as a broken young woman and was immediately indoctrinated with the concept of the old man and new man. Whether those who taught and preached meant it to be digested the way she (and many others) received it, she didn’t know. She began her life of following Jesus thinking her old “man” was who she really was and the true “man” was who she could be through Jesus if she worked hard enough at it. The one saving grace was that her first experience with God was having His love revealed to her.
Later in life, Bella went to seminary and was introduced to spiritual formation/spiritual direction. It was the kind of thing that makes a person say, “Where has this been all my life?!” It was within this venue that she first heard the terms of false self and true self. With this new terminology, came a stunning reorientation. Her true self was who she really was…yes, through Jesus, but also because God had created her this way and delighted in the personality that she had been given. The false self was the broken self who had learned broken and sinful ways of coping with the losses and struggles of life.
As she went on in this reorientation, she was learning that she needed to know this false self. She connected the dots. This was the self she was afraid of facing, the self that could bring her shame. Slowly and gently, she agreed that it was important to know this self so that she could understand and see when she was being taken away from living out of her true self and the peace Jesus wanted for her. But it wasn’t until she heard that she had to love and show compassion to this self as Jesus did, that she was able to welcome her without shame. It was and continued to be transformational. She never faced her false self without Jesus; she knew a lot of what made up her false self ways was developed from a young age and would require tender kindness.
The compassion and gentleness that Jesus led her in towards her false self caused her to love Him even more. A new freedom and peace began to emerge from the inside out.
She learned that most of the time, people’s opinions weren’t about being wrong or right. They were simply the many different lenses through which different personalities saw life through. It was okay to see things through her lens and it was helpful to see through other people’s lenses – it gave a fuller picture of what was going on. No one had the corner on the truth!
Perhaps best of all, Bella realized that she and Jesus were the only ones who had the true skinny on who she was. It was wonderful to not be so afraid any longer. Like a child who finally realizes there aren’t monsters under the bed, she was at peace with herself.
From the Book:
Each of us has a beautiful true self inside of us. It is God’s gift to us. But many of us can hardly take this in. Somewhere life taught us that our true self wasn’t welcome or safe or wanted. Consequently, we learned to hide our true self. In its place we constructed a false self. This self has a defensive, non-resilient, mistrustful and reactive core. This reactive core is at the center of our disordered relationships. It sabotages our ability to trust God and others. The apostle Paul tells us to “put off” the false self – our sinful nature – and put on our true identity in Christ. Since the false self is fabricated on secondary things we idolize, like reputation, success, status, family and jobs, it is always vulnerable. Things that can be here today and gone tomorrow provide precarious mooring for the soul. Our truest identity can never be something we accomplish, earn or prove on our own. It is a gift we receive from Jesus. It is not something we earn through performance; it is what we are given.
The disciplines of “relinquishment” detach us from the idols that vie for our attention, and attach us to our true identity in Christ. When we recognize and name the idols that consume our energy, time and hearts, we can ask God for the grace to “let go,” relinquishing our dependence on these things. Through practices of relinquishment, we detach from striving and unmask the false self with its pretense, attachment, agendas and grandiosities. In the presence of Christ, we lay down the weight of having to manage an image. Francis de Sales writes in his Treatise on the Love of God, “No one can perfectly love God unless he gives up his affections for perishable things…Our free will is never so free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never so servile as when it serves our own will.” Detachment from the false self and idols of our heart can be a painful process. But God’s Spirit of truth longs to help us detach from the lies that shape us. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth of our belovedness and our “Christ-in-me identity.” An identity rooted in Christ has a restful center. Surrendering to and maturing in this Christ-in-me identify is helped by relinquishing disciplines.
We will start to delve into these tomorrow!
Photo by Ammar Sabaa-Unsplash