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.

This Rat needed to Stop Racing

by Rob Gibson

Following is the first post in what will be a weekly blog to unpack my sabbatical journey. It will be real, and sometimes that may get messy, but it is treasure that I want to share.  I’m calling it:

Gleanings from a Sabbatical Journey: Chasing God and finding me

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house,

and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life;

in your light do we see light.  (Ps 36:7-9)

The idea for a sabbatical surfaced years ago, and I dismissed it. I never thought I would take one, as I didn’t plan to write a theological tome or feel “so weak” as to need that kind of rest and recalibration. After all, I worked for over twenty years in the corporate world and in the “real world” you just do it, hit the goal, beat last quarters numbers, conquer or be conquered. I thought this was part of manning up and earning the bragging rights and stuff to show you’ve arrived. Or maybe it was my misplaced sense of macho significance and a misunderstanding of true personal worth. It may too have been driven by my need to be needed and perform well.

Well, with those adversaries fighting in my head, I risked vulnerably asking for a sabbatical. It was not without a tinge of guilt, a sense of wimpyness and some concern that I’m not enough. Yet I was hungry for more from God, to grow and wrestle internal darkness and at least have a break before I crumbled, crashed or crushed others. I was running on fumes, and I don’t think they smelled sweet. A I was performing (more about in a future post) out of professional strength, not serving from a passionate, centered place in my soul. Looking back, I see now I was burnt out and closer to being toast than I realized.

The good news is I am not toast. The good news is God gave me more than I had imagined possible. The good news is I’ve learned sabbatical rest is not for wimps, but for humans. Humans with limits, who are broken, who get weary and worn. I am human and broken. You’re not surprised are you? Who was expecting super-pastor to fix or reform the world? Nobody, but me. That’s just a jacked-up internal story that drives me to race like a rat in an endless maze for cheese that never satisfies. This rat needed to stop racing and drink from the fountain of life (Ps.36:7-9).

The good news is I stopped chasing cheese and caught more of God. I experienced a deeper love and care from him than ever before, but it took going deeper into my own soul. The good news is loving Elders, a great congregation, friends, family and a tremendously supportive wife  gave me space and a tremendous healing gift.

I hope sharing some of my story and the treasure of the gift of this sabbatical will bless you.

Next week: Risking Vulnerability