Posts Tagged ‘true self’
Seasons Change and So Is Me
It’s a different season of devotion for me. It seems this is a continuing cycle, but I’m still trying to figure this “season” out… what it is and what it means to me and for me.
Self-awareness plays a big part in this figuring out. I have always been very “Type-A” the way I pursue life. I am goal and task driven. In my past, I’ve been almost fearless, sometimes a bit reckless, in the way I zealously engaged life. I’m a bit more tempered these days, but there are number of hold-over attributes that I tend to wrestle with as I navigate the life Jesus is leading me. One of those attributes is my tendency to lean into performance-based aspects of my devotional practices. Because I am goal and task driven, I like to have metrics to understand my progress. I have been taught that having real goals means they should be attainable and measurable, so I like to consider my devotional practices and spiritual exercises in this light. For the sake of clarity, when I mention spiritual exercises and devotions, I am referring to things like Bible reading, prayer, fasting, solitude, praise, worship, etc.
With my spiritual practices and my propensity to measure them, I am given pause from time to time and wonder what the basis of my measurement truly is… am I measuring my success in the discipline? Or, is the discipline drawing me closer to God, which I believe, is the desired intent. Perhaps an even greater question is, “How do I truly measure my closeness to God?” Is it a feeling or emotion that can be measured? Is my closeness and devotion to God measured by the manifestation of tangible acts? Is my devotion qualified and quantified by my confidence of relationship through faith?
I might mention that my soul “feels” good, but sometimes my measured devotional practices feel a tad abysmal. This feeling is in comparison or measured against some of my previous years “performances” or my numbered achievements in devotional acts (how much Bible I read and how often, how robust “I think” my prayer life is, how many personal retreats I’ve taken… you get the picture). Are these valid assessments? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it depends on a number of factors. What is the intent of the heat? What is the desired outcome? Who is my audience for the disciplines I pursue??? Me? Others? God alone?
“If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant…” (Gal. 1:10)
I was reading from the Letter to the Galatians while some of the aforementioned thoughts were flitting about in my mind. When I sensed the Holy Spirit ministering to me through the words I share from the Apostle Paul (above).
I felt my response rising within me that I should be careful to remember that I am “people” too (if pleasing people…), and I can easily be caught in the trap of pleasing myself or measuring myself against how I feel or measuring me alongside my expectations for me. This can become a form of narcissism and self-worship as I try to please me over pleasing my God. Lesson: Don’t please me – Please God alone.
The other side of this coin is also important for me to remember. While conviction through the internal witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit is real and necessary for my spiritual development, I can be persuaded to use this conviction and guidance in unhealthy ways. In doing this, I can become a slave to self. I want to remain a slave only to Christ. He alone is the fair and just Master and He alone can be trusted with my soul and my developing self.
“No one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law…” (Gal. 2:16)
While conviction to change and become more like Christ is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit, and as a soul in development, I should be ready, surrendered, and obedient to respond rightly to Him, “Being right with God” is found through faith in Christ—and not through the measurements of my spiritual exercises and/or devotional practices. Naturally, tangible fruit (love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc.) is born from this relationship of rightness. The opposite is not true and has a great potential to be my spiritual undoing when I pursue the path of works-based righteousness. So… I’m changing. God is making like Jesus through the coaching of the Holy Spirit. I should not cling relentlessly to other seasons I have received great enjoyment from during the life of my Christian journey. Instead, I should be more open to trust the work God is doing today and measure my development on how faithful I am to respond to Him in each successive moment. He leads me always and never leaves me alone. God is with me. God is within me. May Christ be glorified in my every moment in my every breath.
Readings: Isaiah 53:3-4 ◊ Matthew 26:36-46 ◊ John 16:7, 32-33 ◊ Mark 15:34 ◊
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away… But if I go, I will send him [Holy Spirit] to you.” Jesus (John 16:7, 32-33)
I don’t like writing about the Dark Night. First of all, I feel very uncomfortable equating my experiences with those who have experienced a true absence of God’s presence and extended season of desolation, especially when it is accompanied by persecution, oppression, and other tragic or “dark” encounters during the course of their Christian journey. I often feel like a novice as I read the journals and memoirs of those great saints who have traveled the road of faith before me. I do not feel qualified to talk at length about some of my experiences and when I do, I feel as though they sometimes seem trivial and fall short of a reputable example for the subject that I might be speaking about.
On the other hand, I process my thoughts better when I write and talk about them. It puts me in a vulnerable spot, but I suppose that is the risk and trade-off for trying to figure out my spiritual journey. The end result is that I might not know what I’m talking about at all, but I’m willing to take the chance for the hopeful promise that I might make a step or two forward in my understanding of who God is, who I am, and who we are together. Sometimes the risk is in proportion to the reward, so I write…and I talk…and I think, out loud.
The past few years I have met seasons of loneliness, times when God felt distant, feelings of being misunderstood, times of discontent, days of melancholy, stretches of spiritual grief, attitudes of apathy, and bouts with depression. There are probably a few other “attitudes” I have encountered, but these are some I have most commonly identified. These times are always troublesome for me. I think it goes without saying that one reason would be the overall discomfort they bring. Another reason is the doubt that invariably comes as part of the package. I do not like to feel bad…ever, and I certainly do not like feeling bad within the context of my own spirituality. Moreover, I have an especially strong distaste for these things when they are accompanied with self-doubt.
What goes on during these seasons of the soul? What is it that makes us feel so lonely and lost? Why is it, try as we might, that we cannot seem to go back to a “healthier” time in our walk with Jesus? I do not think I can speak definitively to all these questions, at least in a way that is sufficient to answer the questions for every person who may ask them, but I feel confident in sharing my own experiences and some of what I’ve learned through the process.
Studying and learning from the great spiritual masters has benefited me greatly; in particular to this writing, the journals from St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila have been most helpful. Also, there have been several contemporary sources that have helped my understanding as well: Dr. Gerald May, Dr. Bruce Demarest, Dr. David Benner, and a few others. So, what is it that I have learned or perhaps better asked, what is that I am learning?
God loves me. I love God. These are two guiding principles for my existence. These principles are challenged by issues in remediation. God wants my love to be perfected and is active in leading me in the ways of perfection. I am damaged goods on the path of restoration. While there are a number of issues that challenge me in my Christian journey, there are a few that manifest themselves as “root” causes for most of those challenges. I believe I could narrow them down to pride, independence, and idolatry.
Pride is a serious challenge. I believe the fact that on any particular day I can wake up and feel as though it has been conquered serves me as evidence that it has not… been conquered at all. Pride is a most subversive agent; it often hides in plain sight. It was pride that served as the seed of humankind’s fall; its root runs deep and its fruit is plenty.
Independence is another great challenge. Not only are we hampered by pride in overcoming independence, but we also face the challenge of the great American culture that teaches individualism and independence as virtues for which everyone is to aspire. Independence is antithetical to the very nature of our communing Triune God who is a community Himself. It was God, who when creating humanity, said that it was not good for man to be alone.
Idolatry might be the greatest challenge of them all. I recall a quote by John Calvin, who said; “The human heart is a factory of idols…Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” I am unsure if idolatry gives birth to pride and independence or if it is the other way around. These issues are so closely interrelated it is difficult to determine where the beginning point is.
How do these character challenges affect the “Dark Night” or a sense of God’s absence? What do they have to do with God’s apparent silence?
I believe the Bible teaches us that God desires each of his children (me and you and every other created soul) to be wholly complete, as He first imagined us. This, I believe, is part of the order in God’s plan of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Therefore, God has enacted a means of being reconciled to Him through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, but that redemptive act is just the threshold—a wonderful and mysterious threshold, but a starting point nonetheless.
As we journey with God on the way of restoration and wholeness, being transformed in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, we encounter the challenges and their myriad manifestations I mentioned earlier. I could write and talk at length about so many of these challenges, but I would like to address the connection of “Dark Night” and absence/silence of God with wholeness and restoration.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
I don’t like the idea that I am an idol factory or idolater. However, if I am honest and objective, I am an idol maker…and will likely be until Christ’s return or my life ends on this side of eternity. Perhaps a bit of clarification is in order. While God allows us to know Him, our knowledge is imperfect, although as we seek God with pure hearts in spirit and in truth, He reveals more and more of himself to us. Still, this revelation and knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. This imperfect and incomplete knowledge of God introduces a problem to us; many of us are not satisfied with incomplete pictures/images. The remedy for this problem of incomplete image is to complete it and I believe this is what many people try to do…complete the image of incomplete knowledge. This is a form of idolatry.
No matter how pure my intent and no matter how mature my spirituality is, I form an image of God in my mind and heart based on what I know of Him. I do not necessarily believe this is blatantly wicked, nor do I believe that in itself is separating from God, but it can and does create strain on our relationship with Him which has potential to lead us away from Him.
How it Works…
As I avail myself to God’s Self revealing through His Word, prayer, interacting with other believers, indwelling guidance from Holy Spirit, and many other means of revelation, I am able to form an understanding of who God is…I form an image of God. Now, some of this image may be true, but being incomplete, the best I can do is to create a “wire-frame” image of God. There are elements missing, dots remain unconnected. I have two choices at this juncture; I can continue my journey with a limited and incomplete God based upon my partial image of Him or I can complete the construction of my wire-frame with my own embellishments. Both of these options are not always done intentionally, but the process of completion often takes place nonetheless even despite our best efforts to prevent it. The end result is a god of our making whom we will often project on to others through teaching, witness, or other lifestyle actions.
God’s best is for us to know Him in Spirit and in Truth. The evidence of Scripture and the reality of the Incarnation teach us that God wants human beings to know Him. I think it stands to reason that God desires our knowledge should be true and not manufactured by us, so as we journey with Him along the way of restoration, He leads us into places of wilderness, Gethsemane gardens, and hills of Golgotha. Each of these places are defining moments for us and can be places of barrenness, loneliness, anxiety, doubt, fear, the sense of God’s absence, and places of extreme silence. It is in these places where the student is tested… the Potter beats, moulds, and shapes… the Metal smith fires, forges, hammers, and sharpens… It is in this place where false images are erased and idols are crushed.
It is important to know this defining place is not a place of punishment, but a process of refinement. It is my experience too that it is not a “one and done” visit. It seems with each visit and increasing awareness of God’s character, there is an eventual follow-up encounter for pride smashing and idol crushing. I think the process will continue until… I also believe this is a natural spiritual order.
What has been my greatest understanding as I’ve encountered these seasons of absence and breaking? Probably among the most important things I’ve come to realize is that God loves me so much that He will not leave me with a false image of Himself as long as my heart is pursuing Him. True knowledge of God is conditional; we have to be pursuing Him with humble heart and pure intent. Otherwise, even what we think we know of Him will be taken away and will lead us to our own destruction (Luke 8:18 NLT).
“God who is everywhere never leaves us…Yet he may be more present to us when he is absent than when he is present.” -Thomas Merton
I am also learning that God never, ever, truly departs or is absent from us—what leaves or betrays us is not God, but our [false] images, concepts, and sensations of God. It is here in God’s “silence” or “absence” where He can usually be found speaking His loudest. Here is the time where it behooves us to exercise our best listening skills, here in the quiet of God. In the times where we feel that God is absent, it is the time and place where we often find even greater intimacy with Him. Do not despair in the moments of desolation and loneliness…for it is here that God’s presence is even more manifest.
Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
In the ancient Palestinian wilderness, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Golgotha’s Hill—God spoke with non-words and was present in His absence. As paradoxical as it may seem, I believe there are times when God is even more present in His absence than He is present in His presence.
God is specially present in the hearts of his people by his Holy Spirit. Indeed the hearts of holy men are truly his temples. In type and foreshadow, they are heaven itself. For God reigns in the hearts of his servants. There is his kingdom.” -Jeremy Taylor
The False Self: Distorting Our View of God
I wonder a lot; in fact, I probably think too much about stuff sometimes. Lately, I’ve been thinking about some of the ripple effects of what it means to “deny one’s self” according to the imperative given to us by Jesus (see the Gospel of Luke chapter fourteen). Actually, I’m thinking about what not denying self means; specifically, what it means to the person who wants to associate themselves with Jesus, but not fully commit themselves to His Way.
Today I was thinking about theodicy (defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil), this especially in the light of recent events taking place in Aurora, Colorado. As I’ve pondered the idea of why and how something so tragic could happen, I’ve also considered the angry comments, rants, and accusations of so many people expressing their hurt and outrage over the internet. It seems that there are almost as many different perceptions of who God is or is not as there are people… and I wonder why this is so.
I have become more and more convinced that so much of who we are as people, so much of what we know AND so much of what we believe is controlled by our ego—our relationships, our vocations, our worldview, our philosophy, our theology, and so much more—all and everything, influenced and even controlled by the fallen and broken persona that is “self.” This is the same “self” Jesus mandated his followers must deny and crucify before they could become his disciples. If we fail to deny self, we encounter a serious, if not insurmountable problem. If we attempt to follow Jesus without first denying “self,” all of life, our hopes, and our view of God are seen through the brokenness of our confused and false self; ultimately, this is a broken view…and a wrong view. Any perception or perceived understanding of God through the un-crucified self is a false understanding and results in an idolatrous view of God.
Without the purity of God’s purging truth we are unaware of the lies we hold as our version of reality. The Apostle Paul writes that we understand in part…we see through the glass dimly. This, I believe, is understood with the assumption that he writes to people who have assumedly begun the path of self-denial. If this is true for those who have agreed to live a life of self-denial, how much less do people know who have decided to hold on to self? The heart of the false self is full of deceit and misguided beliefs; it only knows what it knows. While this misguided false self may have noble intentions, it’s not following Truth… it can’t because it is ruled by itself. Thus, Jesus implores us: “Deny your self…” Denial of self is the first step toward clarity and whole truth. We cannot hope for understanding until we deny ourselves—the false and broken self—and allow God, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit to re-form us into the identity that is the true self, the self that was first formed in the image and likeness of God.
I do not have the answers to all the questions regarding theodicy, evil, persecution, injustice, oppression, and other issues of suffering. I do know that having a proper view of God and Spirit guided path through life are what I need to navigate a world with unresolved questions. A right view of God is the only hope I have when faced with pain and suffering I cannot provide answers or give reason for. A god of my own making doesn’t provide me with the comfort my heart needs and a god of my own making is what I get when I fail to deny self.
Icrucified. I. Crucified. Galatians 2:20