Today’s entry is slightly longer than normal, but totally worth it!
If you’ve been following the sermons on Sunday mornings (view them here), you’ll know that we unpacked Genesis 3. In the process, I made an important claim: we engage in a large set of behaviors that are outside of God’s design and yet, not traditionally categorized as “sin.” These are all the behaviors associated with what I would call “the false self.”
One reason we construct false selves is for protection. Out of fear and out of a desire to stay safe, we will erect aspects of our selves that feel necessary for our survival, but are not at all what God intended for our lives.
Even if you don’t know how this works in your own life, you know how this works in other people’s lives: If you see someone get wounded by someone else’s words, you can see the person shrink like a turtle inside a shell. In your heart, you desperately desire for them to come back out of their shell because even though that shrunken version is not overtly “sinful,” it is also not what God intends. It is not the “abundant life” that Jesus describes in John 10:10 (link).
For me, one of my “protective shells” was not shyness, but rebellion. Because I was so wounded by authority figures, I become an anti-authoritarian rebel. It was a way of staying safe in the face of future authority figures, even if those authorities were actually wise and benevolent. Needless to say, my rebellious approach to life was especially unhelpful in the face of the ultimate Authority. (See Jonah, chapter 1)
Yet, I considered that “way of being” to be a unique part of my personality. It wasn’t just part of my false self; it was part of my self!
That’s the sneaky way the false self works: the core elements of the false self seem so necessary to our survival and such an important part of our being that the false self ends up masquerading as who we really are. Our persona eventually becomes our personality.
In fact, did you know that our English word “person” comes from the Latin persona, which is an actor’s mask? So, in English, a “person” is literally defined by the mask they wear. Seems theologically appropriate in some sick way! We become our false selves, all the while thinking “it’s just part of my personality.”
In other words, some of the hiding we do becomes so ingrained that we forget we are hiding.
- We think “God made me to be anti-authoritarian” even though we’re simply using that rebellious posture to stay safe in the world — safe from a threat that no longer exists.
- Or we think, “God designed me to work behind the scenes” even though we’re simply using shyness as a way to stay safe in the world — safe from a manufactured threat, not a real one.
- Or we think “God designed me to be sarcastic” even though we’re simply using sarcasm to stay safe in the world — either to make sure we don’t get hurt or to make sure people don’t see the real me, which I can only presume is unacceptable and unlovable.
Those various “actor’s masks” form a real tragedy.
And that’s a short list! … What comes to mind for you? Can you think of personality traits that might actually be false selves—masks we’re using to hide?
It is likely that all of us have traits that God wants to prune. God wants us to experience life—life to the full, and that will only happen if we let the Vine-grower prune some fig leaves so that we might come out of hiding.
TODAY’s CURIOSITY: Are there parts of your personality that are actually false selves? Are there modes of protection that go against God’s desire for your full flourishing and the flourishing of those around you? How will you figure this stuff out? Who will you ask for input? How will the Holy Spirit show you aspects of your “self” that need to be pruned?