Demolishing Prison Walls

by Rob Gibson   May  26, 2016

Post #6 in: Gleanings from … and everyday life. The rest of the story from post #5. 

It takes intentionality and courage to deconstruct the prison walls of our false selves. If we don’t expose and dismantle them, they become lonely prisons in which we die.

Demolition is something I do pretty well when it comes to projects at home. I get a strange satisfaction out of beating the crap out of stuff with a sledge hammer. Maybe it’s the hope of a reconstructing something better. Relationally, sledge hammers don’t work as they wound already tender hearts, but deconstructing unhealthy relational walls is still important work.

Last week I shared how my false self, the “right one” (finds value in “getting it right”), built a wall between me and two friends I love. In the moment, I was unaware my false-self was operative, but after our meeting I sensed a divide, a prison of sorts that felt isolated and cold.

I asked God, why I felt disconnected and a dis-ease with that meeting. His word back was; “you’re fighting to be right, you’re fighting for value and worth … stop fighting for what I’ve already given you!” It was a beautiful moment of God given self-awareness that exposed a wall a false-self regularly tries to build. It was redeeming because God gave me the sense I was loved and secure in him, even when I’m wrong and living falsely. It was very freeing as that awareness of the false-self opened a cell door, exposed the wall, and invited me to step into the  light of his truth and love.

Awareness necessarily leads to a choice to do something or nothing at all. Inaction is a choice to let the wall stand and stay in an increasingly lonely prison. Action for me is sharing the false-self exposed by the relational wall. Sharing my brokenness, the falseness, the twisted internal messages and fight for value with these friends. The exposure and disclosure feels risky and the false-self resists it. But the notion that exposure is risky is a lie of the false-self, because God says:

“… when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,

and arise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”” 

(Ephesians 5:13-14)

This is an amazing truth; exposure to his light transforms my darkness to light! It crushes the power of the lies. So God invites me to wake up, take action, arise from death and let Christ shine. Do I dare trust him in this?

God also says:

“…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  (1John 1:7)

Do I really want loving connections (fellowship) with these men and other human beings? If so, I have to risk walking in the light. My false-self screams resistance: “They will judge you, reject you, and shovel condemnation on you.” They could, some have, others will and the hurt is real. Still, God will not – there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Nothing can separate us from his love. Christ has fully accepted and secured me – now and for eternity. Will I trust that and walk in the light of his love? Will you?

I decided to step into the light. I phoned one man and told him I didn’t feel good about our conversation and shared the internal battle for value I was having. I assured him he’d done nothing and I was aware this was my junk. He responded warmly; “Thank you for that. I wondered what I’d done because I felt that wall too!” It was telling, because I thought the wall was well concealed. In reality we all feel the relational walls – a wall is not easily hidden. He continued: “I appreciate your honesty and I feel closer to you now.” Amazing, deeper fellowship because I walked in the light, exposing my broken humanity and falseness. It works – God wasn’t kidding!

The light demolished the darkness and, in that moment, took power from the lies fueling the false-self. I say, “in that moment,” because false-selves are pervasive and persistent in attempting to steal the love and joy of being relationally connected. But light conquers darkness.

So if it worked with one man, do I dare call the other? I risked the action and it worked again. Now I’m writing about it in hope that the story will encourage you to walk in the light; and writing it encourages me to stay in the light and experience more freedom as prison walls are demolished.

I don’t know your internal struggle or your false-self, but I’m convinced we all have them. It may be fighting for value, security, love, acceptance or affirmation. It may stem from deep pain, depression, abuse, sexual sin, fear, abandonment, shame, or other relational wounds that make you want to hide your heart. Every situation and every heart is different, and it takes courage to begin the journey out of the prison of darkness. Regardless of the differing darkness of our particular prison, the light of Christ’s love is always the cure. Christ’s love is the way out.

The light is freeing and his love is wonderfully safe. God loves you, come walk in the light.

Part 2 – The Patience to know myself

by Rob Gibson   May 19, 2016

Post #5 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical… and daily life.

Inward Discovery: Illusive Patience part 2  … The Patience to know myself and God, deeply. 

So I’m not fixed and that tests my patience. I want to have it all together, not be broken, make mistakes, hurt others, sin, feel like an idiot, need to apologize and, basically, experience my humanity. Pride is at the root of my impatience, but it’s not so easy to unroot pride. It is coy and often covered in false humility, especially as we learn appropriate Christian behavior.

The question for me is deeper than pride. Where is my pride anchored? The anchor I believe is a distorted sense of value and worth – a worth tied to “getting it right,” getting everything right!

Intellectually I know it’s impossible, but the heart is not easily convinced. I know my value and worth is rooted and anchored in Christ, because we are made in His image, made new in Christ, claimed as His own and given His glory (Gen. 1:26, Eph. 1:3-14, 2 Cor. 5:17, John 17:22). I get it and I don’t. I’m better at explaining it to others than living out of this truth myself, because I want to prove my worth by getting it right!

If I did get it right, I wouldn’t need Jesus. I’d be independently OK, not dependent on Jesus forgiveness, love or the sustaining power of the Spirit. The strange blessing is my brokenness cries out, becomes too obvious to conceal, and the elephant in the room is revealed.

I bumped into one of the elephants this week. Our Elders were together planning a worship service. I offered a part. It was thoughtfully received, and given a massage in order to improve it. The idea was supported, I was supported, and offered helpful enhancement. This is beautiful collaboration, unless subconsciously my pride, my sense of worth is perceived to be under attacked.

The false-self appears, the “right one” who must get it right (I’d call it the “prideful one” but it is deeper and more nuanced than pride alone). The “right one” screams “your value is at stake, you must be right Rob.” This unconscious voice was playing. So very subtly, with good behavior as a cover, the false self was fighting for worth, my way. I was fighting for acceptance and value, because the story in my head is I’m not acceptable or worthy if I don’t “get it right.”

The reality is these men do accept me, not as a perfect man, but as a broken man who gives it a good go. It’s the false self, the lies within, that say otherwise. But the false self is never satisfied, never accepting of our humanity and brokenness and consequently, will never get for me (or you) what I really want.

Others joined our discussion and agreed with the modifications, so now it’s obvious, the changes are good, the fight must be forfeited for the moment, externally. I kindly agree and it’s resolved, right? No, the false-self isn’t satisfied. I leave disturbed, unaware the false self has been so impatiently active. I also sensed a dividing wall coming up between me and these men. I hate barriers, especially with brothers I deeply value and love.

So I leave to participate in a prayer meeting with 40 other pastors, feeling this dis-ease, feeling some conviction of internal hypocrisy and a disconnection from my brothers. So I ask, “God why am I feeling crappy about that meeting?” The inaudible answer comes, “you’re fighting to be right, you’re fighting for your value and worth, you’re fighting for something I’ve already given you.”

Unbelievable, an unnecessary fight! An internal fight had not gotten what it demanded, but rather had distanced me from trusted friends and constructed a relational wall. That’s what false selves do, they build walls that too easily become prisons to die in. There is a way out.

A way out is patience with my humanity. That means the patience to be wrong, patience to be a man with limits, patience to be in process, patience to be molded by the voice of the Spirit and God’s goodness to me from others. Patience to know and accept myself, and accept God’s redeeming love in my brokenness.

Next week, a few more thoughts on the imprisoning false self, the way out, and the really redeeming way the walls came down in this story.

Inward Discovery: Illusive Patience 

By Rob Gibson  May 12, 2016

Post #4 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical. My hope is my journey, potholes and flat tires included, will help you on your journey too.  

A primary focus of the journey was to meet God deeply in my soul. That may sound godly and pastor-ish, but it was a selfish want. I wanted God to fix me, fix my frustrations, fix my brokenness and do it quickly. He is God after all, so he could “Git Er Done” if he wanted. I wanted it now, because my patience was tattered and frayed. I learned that I’m in a big hairy hurry and God is not – he wants a relationship, not a quick fix. 

I thought I had learned (past tense, done, nailed it) patience at a deep level 18 years ago. I was fired three times in two days by my business mentor, friend and man my kids called Uncle. My career, business investment, close family friendship and a lot of money painfully vanished. We fought a costly legal battle over honoring your word, doing what is right, and not hurting innocent people. The battle scars challenged and taught me forgiveness and patience. Patience with believers who act badly, patience with my wife as she hurt over lost trust, patience with friends who stop caring, and patience to trust God to do justice his way on his schedule. I learned patience as I fought to restrain myself from condemning him (he is a sinner like me, his sin just hit me head on) and resisting the urge to beat the fool out of a someone I trusted and hurt me. 

That was a lesson in patience, but I wasn’t done yet. It fueled a desire to fight against the immoral and unjust, to make things right. You know, there is a lot of wrong stuff in this jacked-up broken world! So it can be an endless, exhausting fight. 

One big broken thing, though I didn’t immediately focus here, is ME. It’s always easier to focus on external problems than look into my own soul. So I took the fight to the world through ministry. However internally my impatience and dis-ease was deeply fueled by a battle against my own brokenness and inability to get it all right, be really good one, the way I expect the world to be. All have sinned and fallen short, got it, but I can fix that!  

Now my head logically gets that I can’t “fix” everything and make everything all right, but logic doesn’t fix the pangs of our heart. As the Troll in Frozen (Disney, 2013) says, “the head can be persuaded…the heart is not so easily changed.” See my heart impatiently wants everything to be right, especially with me. I am a perfectionist by nature (and that’s not a virtue). On the Enneagram (a nine point personality profile) I am the “moral Reformer/Perfectionist who strives intensely to get it rIght and make the world a better place. Not necessarily vices, except when my heart says my value, worth and well being are intricately connected to being right and getting it right. 

The result is a touch of craziness – because value, worth and wellbeing are out of reach in this paradigm. The internal drive to perform, reform and perfect torches the impatient fuse. When it blows the dynamite is demanding intensity, criticism and seething anger as I doggedly seek to fix stuff so the world and I will be ok, meet the (my) standard, be above criticism and have it right. The problem is a perfectionists standards are never met … it’s never right enough and perfect is allusive in this broken world.

So my selfish demand was for God to fix it all, especially me. The challenge is God said that won’t happen till Christ returns and that exacerbates an inward groaning for the day of redemption (Romans 8:23). God is trying my patience and taking me deeper into a perfectly secure relationship with himself!  

Next week I’ll talk about patience in brokenness and receiving God’s love.

The Journey Inward to Find God

by Rob Gibson   May 5, 2016

Post #3 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical. This is my real and often messy personal treasure that I want to share with you, in hopes it blesses you too.  

I know of no better way to put it, one of my goals was to find God. He wasn’t reported missing, but I knew parts of me were sorely missing him. I prayed that he would search me and show me the inward places that needed him (Psalm 139:23-24). I don’t mean the places that I know are dark and need reformation, you know, the sharp words, the angry act, the selfish choice, the covetousness and lust of the flesh. I see that ugly stuff, want it fixed too, but I know there are deeper roots. I mean places that exist subconsciously, the blindspots. Spots we may really not want to see. Places that are part of the broken subconscious matrix of attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that prop up my identity, defend my ego, and fights for value.

This is hard territory. It is the core that God wants to occupy, and must, to become more whole.

Let me back up and tell you my experience of God missing in a deeper part. It is an internal emptiness and hunger that will not be sated, even by God’s word (more on this another time). It isn’t merely emptiness, but a feeling of inner space noxiously filled by a demanding intruder. The intruder is busyness, ceaseless strivings, unattainable standards, endless “shoulds” and a droning “do more, it’s not enough.” It’s a dis-ease that makes Paul’s words maddeningly real.

“ …we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children…” (Rom 8:22-23 NLT)

So what is this groaning deep within? I think God’s answer is the old man (Romans 7:19, Eph 4:22), the grappling with disconnection from God, or what some call the false self. The false self is that often unconscious part of ourselves that strives to be its own god (Gen 3;5). It takes the bait, like Adam and Eve, and choses autonomy, hides from God (Gen 3:6-8), and attempts to thrive independent of God.

Conversely our true self is found in deep relational union with God. His desire is to be at the very core of our being, and of course we have no being without him (Col 1:16-17). The true self thrives in oneness with Jesus (as he prays in John 17:20-23), in the mystery of a life hidden in Christ and Christ alive in us (Col 1:27, 3:5). Where disconnected autonomy is present, there is falseness.

My false selves are the critic, the joker, the judge, the analyzer, the perfectionist and the performer, just to name a few. These are learned ways to defend, protect, fight for wholeness, seek worth, and attempt to survive apart from God. They are born out of a broken connection to God and fractured identity. False selves alway operate out of a primal fear. Mine is the fear that I won’t be ok unless. I won’t get what I need, unless. I won’t be valued, unless. I will be rejected, unless. Adam and Eve feared so they blamed and played the victim. This is the deep junk I needed and still need God to excavate in my soul. It’s not easy work and I often avoid it.

So on my journey, driven by the groaning and burnout (the false selves use a lot of energy), I got to work. I was resting and reading in solitude to create space to find God. What I found was a layer of fear and a false self that I thought was adequately contained. Instead, the sneaky performer was there in my sabbatical work. The performer works to be approved, to be loved, to be accepted, to be secure, to be valued, to be enough. It was working to have the ideal sabbatical, to achieve a successful sabbatical. My performer is an over achieving workaholic, even when he isn’t working! It’s never satisfied and it is intense.

The intensity of my false self is deadening and oppressive. It’s deadening because it is a facade and unsuccessful at getting the acceptance, love and value my soul needs and desires. It ultimately fails because it demands what only God can give.

I’ll unpack more in future posts, because I believe this is big for me and maybe for you too. But let me close with four critical awarenesses from my journey. First is the willingness to face the false self and understand why it’s operative. Awareness is a first step to healing and taking action. Second is the reality that it is more ubiquitous than we believe. Third is finding the one thing, one transformative truth or virtue, that confronts and depletes its power. For me that is patience (more on that next time).Lastly is continually turning over the false self to death and welcoming the cure. The cure is Christ more fully alive within (Gal 2:20). The risky vulnerable journey continues daily, but the reward is a growing wholeness, change, depth, and peace that come from a more real union/connection with God, and you.