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.