Monday, June 05, 2006

Return to the True Self

'Return to the True Self' was delivered at the Headstart Leaders' Spiritual Retreat, 16-18 September 2005. It is part 3 in a series of 4 reflections under the title 'Come Away With Me'.

While we reenter the present in terms of time and place, we also need to come back to our true selves in person. We are getting ourselves reoriented in time, place and person, so to speak. The reason is if we are not ourselves, who are we, and how can we relate to God from a false substitute? The true self remains restless to be found.

We are often so caught up in pleasing our clients, our bosses, our spouses, and our parents that we don’t know why we do what we do anymore. We lose ourselves to the opinion of others. The demands of making it has put us on a treadmill of improving our salary, investing in our security, and amassing things – from little trinkets and gadgets to houses and cars. We have become what we own. We pride ourselves in our abilities to lead, manage, produce results – we soon become what we can do.

The false self, or ‘old man’ of the Bible, is the who we are apart from God. From birth, our existence is marred with pain and loneliness. However, as we grow up, the wrong message is unintentionally whispered in to us: ‘If you… I will love you…’ If we finish our food, our parents will love us. If we do well in school, they will love us. If we go to university and succeed in life, the will love us. If I own the swankiest bike, my friends will love me. If I show great leadership, my colleagues will adore me. Advertisements and billboards scream to us: ‘Buy this, do that, look good, you haven’t truly lived until…’ And so it goes on and on throughout life till our entire person is constructed on these things.

We have lost our true selves on the altar of popularity, possessions and power. Our true inner man who IS, complete and real, apart from any of these external things have been snuffed out when we exchange our true identity with these things.

How do we now unlearn and deconstruct the very fabric our lives. How do we reclaim our authenticity and personhood? How do we come home from floating around as ghosts pleasing others, amassing things, and trying to do greater things?

The before and after of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is instructive:
Forty days of starvation and desolation, Jesus was vulnerable. When we are lonely and weary, we want to feed ourselves with things, with affection, and with power.

When the devil tempted Jesus to turn stone into bread, He rejected it saying, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ To grab for our material needs apart from God is to deny that all creation is God’s and a gift to us. When we give in, we make the pursuit of things greater than the pursuit of the Creator. We want our worth in things we can see.

When the devil tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, with authority and splendor, here was a quick means to popularity – Jesus could build his empire and have the world worship him at his feet. He replied, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’ We want our worth in what people think of us. But for Jesus only how the Father looks to him mattered, the opinion of others/the world was meaningless.

Finally, Jesus was tempted to display His greatness once and for all by free-fall diving and a supernatural stunt in view of the whole city. If am God’s Son, and I am loved as He says I am, I will surely be delivered in spectacular fashion! But Jesus replied: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ There was absolutely no need to prove himself and his worth in God’s eyes. We want our worth in the power we have, in our abilities and achievements – Jesus saw his worth only in the Father’s eyes.

We need to recover our real identity of the Beloved, who IS, in the safe place of God’s presence. Jesus shows us how. Before the temptation, God had spoken in a voice at the Jordan: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ And this was way before he had done anything. He was a mere carpenter’s son who had not even preached his first sermon, healed his first sick, or performed any miracles. Experiencing our belovedness and seeing our true selves in God’s eyes makes us complete, lacking nothing.

Secondly, even IN the wilderness – when the euphoria has faded, when there was no one to affirm us, no things to remind us of what we have, no support base to encourage us – Jesus quoted Scripture. Basil Pennington says: ‘Here we have an antidote to the false self: a daily feeding, a steady immersion into the Word of God. When we are daily fed by the Word of God, when it nourishes us and nurtures us, it forms our mind and heart in the Truth. It uncovers and peels away, one by one, the deceptions of the false self. It grounds us in the Truth and enables us to discern, in the light of that Truth our true selves in.. our relationship with God…’

If the institution of the Sabbath teaches us anything it is this: we ARE complete and fully alive, even apart from our work. We can assure ourselves that when we stop – we don’t cease from existing, we don’t cease to live. When God stopped on the 7th day, He did not cease to be the God he was before he created. When Jesus refused the things, power and popularity offered by Satan, he didn’t cease to be the Beloved. I AM, and I can JUST BE. Just Be-ing is a lost art today. Solitude helps us restore our identity apart from work. The more we are able to let go, the more of God we can have, and the less of things do we need!

The key is to replace our false self-view with God’s true view of us. Accepting God’s acceptance of us is a lifetime of unlearning and relearning. Being authentic with one another, embracing our ordinariness, not trying to be someone else – we bloom and find joy in who we are, warts and pimples all the same. In stillness and in God’s presence we can truly say: ‘Nothing is important, I need nothing else – only God. Only God.’

Reflection and Dialog:
1. How important is others’ opinion of you – in the workplace, at home, in church?
2. What are some things you feel you must have or achieve to be have ‘made it’?
3. What steps will you take to find the Sabbath-Rest?

Part 1 - The Tragedy of Restlesness
Part 2 - Coming into the Present
Part 3 - Return to the True Self
Part 4 - Journeying from Eden to Heaven


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