I am at once, proud and ashamed of the ever-growing stack of books on the table next to my favorite reading chair. It only grows, never dwindles. As I finish one, two more replace it. Knowledge, it would seem, is a never-ending fountain - a well that never runs dry. And my mind of unlimited capacity. Of course, I know this to be false as my mind has a very limited capacity and my years to accumulate insight and wisdom finite. Numbered, as it were, by the Creator and Sustainer of all knowledge. The very fact I can grow and learn a product of His design. Discovery - His idea.
Discovery. This notion of discovering is the premise of one of those books now populating my side table. This particular book, The Gift of Being Yourself by David G. Benner, has been "giving me a run for my money", as the saying goes. A door, of sorts, now stands open. A door we all need walk through yet few, willingly, do. I won't talk much about the specifics of the book only my, rather infantile, experiences with it. Experiences I feel that have been prompted and aided by Benner's insightful words. As well as nudging and conviction by the Holy Spirit. The calibrator of my heart "compass" on this journey of discovery. The only Knower of "true north". Self-discovery, on its surface may seem trivial to those of us who claim the faith and wear the title of Christian. But, as Benner says in his book, "Christian Spirituality involves a transformation of self that occurs only when God and self are deeply known." He goes on to say, "There is no deep knowing of God without deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God." (pg. 22)
And there it was. The more I want to know and experience God, the more I would have to know of myself. To further discover my God, the depths of myself I would have to plumb. This prospect is not a pleasant one. Unmasking what Benner calls the "false self" is painful and disarming. But once the mask is removed an intimacy is discovered. It makes complete sense now, of course. To know and to be fully known one must become unmasked. For the "false self" hides more than just our faces from our Creator. It hides our very heart - the thing we long to, so desperately, be healed. To be made whole.
I recently wrote in my journal how I longed to be known - fully and completely. I assumed this would come by some outward affirmation of my intellect or my person. I never dreamed it would come from within - from the removing of my "mask"- from becoming vulnerable. And finally discovering how utterly known we all really are.
I weep tears of fulfillment just writing those words. We are known, friends. Whether we can feel it or not. We are known.
I have only just begun this journey of discovery. Mine is an enthusiasm of someone at the start of something. My heart feels full to bursting and yet my head begs two questions: How fleeting is this revelation? at what point will the steam run-out and the journey stall. And: How can I share this? how do others know this life-changing reality?
You see, I fear that many may be looking for this truth but are simply "looking" in the wrong place. I wonder if we find ourselves in desperate want of being known - outside of ourselves - when perhaps what we really need is to be aware of how intimately known we already are - by our God. This truth brings freedom, friends.
Well, I want to share one short personal anecdote from my own recent journey of discovery. It may not be as poignant to you as it has been for me. But on the chance that it could be, I will share it.
In a chapter titled, "Unmasking Your False Self", Benner goes about the difficult task of getting us to recognize and eventually unmask what he calls the "False Self". Benner states that,
at the core of the false self is a desire to preserve an image of our self and a way of relating to the world... how we think of ourselves and how we want others to see us and think of us. (pg. 70)What makes the false self so dangerous is that we are usually attached to this false self in an unhealthy way - becoming, in our minds, only the thing or way that we want others to see in us.
We learn to cloak hate with apparent love, anger with apparent calm, and indifference with apparent sympathy. In short we learn how present our self in the best possible light - a light designed to create a favorable impression and maintain our self esteem. (pg. 72)Ouch. Where this becomes detrimental to us feeling known is that we put on these false selves without even knowing it. They are, as Benner says, "like the air we breathe... elusive as the wind, seeming to disappear when the light of attention shined in its direction." (pg. 72) So what can be done, we ask? I love the profound and almost poetic words of Benner when he says, "The only hope for unmasking the falsity that resides at the core of our being is a radical encounter with truth." (pg. 72)
A radical encounter with truth.
My false self will remain as "elusive as the wind" unless revealed to me by the Author of all truth.
At the end of this chapter Benner calls the reader to two things: Identify the thing that makes you feel the most vulnerable and prayerful reflection on the part of your self that you feel most attached to. Identifying what makes me feel vulnerable, came quickly. Emotion and weakness - particularly sadness and hurt. I realized that in order to maintain my "false self" of strength and control over emotion, I often denied both sadness and hurt. Unknowingly, shutting my God out from that part of me. By denying they existed, I was disallowing and refusing my God's help and comfort in times of loss or pain. Though I still felt both. Because denying something doesn't make it any less real. And when it comes to hurt and pain, denial prevents healing and blocks authentic relationship.
As the Lord began to reveal to me areas where I have been hiding, things began to become clear. The product of a traumatic childhood, my "false self" developed early and fast. I learned quickly that everyone loves a person that can "keep it all in perspective". I would acknowledge the difficulties that others were facing while pushing down my own pain. Because -
Everyone loves strength.
Everyone applauds stamina.
No one uplifts the coward or the broken-down.
Benner states that seeing the false self becomes difficult because the thing we want others to see in us is true of who we are - in part. I am strong. And emotional insight, at an early age, was a gift from the Lord. What I failed to recognize was that I am not only strong. I am also weak and vulnerable. And, I am not only insightful. I can also be hurt - and badly at that.
And as I sat, "palms up" in a posture of acceptance I began to reveal myself to God. In that moment, with my self laid bare, I felt - for perhaps the very first time - just how known and loved I really am - by my God. My creator.
I'm sure I will have many more moments of discovery on this journey. At least, I hope I do. But the thing I long to leave with you is this:
We are known, friends. And not just known but utterly and completely loved and accepted. And that, well that changes everything.
O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand! Psalm 139:1-6