Self – True or False?

Remove ShameCleanse the lepers: restore to community (part three)

God Himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ.            -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Jesus is committed to removing the shame that results in isolation, whatever the source of the shame, be it leprosy or fear. (See previous two posts.) Cleansed and free we can now begin to experience ourselves as God’s beloved children. Although this is our reality, it is an identity into which we must grow. We are not accustomed to thinking of ourselves as beloved, accepted and healed (our true self). We have learned to use others as bolsters for our sagging ego (our false self). We need to learn how to relate to ourselves and others from our new identity, our true self. Jesus lovingly places us in his school of grace called community. Beloved, we can love; accepted, we can accept, healed we can heal.

We need community to teach us the truth.

Our false self lives in one of two camps, with either an extremely elevated or a totally deflated ego. The first cannot tolerate any blemish or shadow on its bloated sense of self, the other cannot integrate any sense of value or worth. They appear very different from one another but they are two expressions of the same process, an attempt to prove ourselves good, lovable and significant.

Our inflated ego keeps our false self safe by believing, “I’m good, I’m important, God must be pleased with me”; people must be kept at a distance in order to protect our false sense of security. Their displeasure or disapproval of who I am could puncture the fragile membrane that keeps my false self intact.

On the other hand, believing we are worthless and unlovable (yet so not wanting it to be true), causes us to draw people toward us who will be the voice that tells us “you’re good, you’re important, God must be pleased with you.”  All in an attempt to strengthen our false self by convincing ourselves of our ok-ness.

God’s truth spoken through the living Word and through the words of our brothers and sisters in Christ deals a death blow to the false self. You see, God’s word pronounces us guilty even when we do not feel guilty (inflated ego) and it pronounces us not guilty and righteous, even when we do not feel righteous at all (deflated ego). The truth is we are sinners, but we are beloved sinners. We are worse than and better than our false selves would have us believe.

God dissolves my false self by placing God’s word and truth in your mouth to speak it to me (and vice versa). Our community will allow our true selves to be realized. We need each other. We need God’s school of grace called community.

More on the life-giving role of community in my next post. This material is taken from Shaped at a Garden Retreat. For more information about this retreat contact me.

5 thoughts on “Self – True or False?

  1. In a church community, how does this sort of honest dialog take place? Practically speaking, there is the ritual of reconciliation in communion but in a Protestant type of setting there is no confession. I do not have a model besides the Quakers or Menonites or a cloistered order from which to draw inspiration. Does Bonhoeffer have such a model in his book? Marriage, a spiritual direction group, a retreat, these are places that could be safe enough to practice such community. Can the practice of such community occur with our secular friendships, with our Jewish friends?

    • Very good question, Noelle. My personal experience (and Bonhoeffer’s book suggests) that such authentic truth-telling best happens in the context of a safe, small group of people who are committed to loving and bearing one another. Our true self is like a newborn. It has all it needs for a healthy and mature life experience, but it needs the shelter, care, protection and respect of caregivers who are committed to supplying it’s needed life sustaining and life promoting requirements. Babies shrivel and die without such care, and except for God’s protective membrane of grace, so would our true selves. Praying for and then risking an invitation to a few fellow traveler’s to join you in this graced experience is the beginning I would suggest. The model would hold true with any souls seeking truth (remember God is the source of all truth), but it is the Spirit of Christ which binds and sustains…

  2. Pingback: My hero, the leper (a prayer) « The Mentored Life

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