The True Self

Presently I am reading Richard Rohr’s new book Internal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. He writes that Jesus makes it very clear that there is a self that has to be found and one that has to be let go of or even “renounced.”

We’ve just finished our eleven week Healing Path class and all through out I see in myself and others the struggle to live out of the true self. My great struggle to live out of a place of truth has been and at times continues to be my shame and a core anxiety that I am not “good enough.” There is that broken part of me that covets recognition and praise. So throughout my life I’ve worn many costumes and played many roles for approval. Trying to build, protect and promote my idealized false self to others was and has been exhausting. Until I honestly learned how to die to my shame and become truthful and vulnerable with others I remained “stuck.” I could fall into great despair in solitude but could never invite others (Jesus included) into my pain or shame.

Eventually I had to fall into the merciful arms of Jesus and renounce this false way of life. I was so obsessed with people accepting me, liking me, and being impressed with me that I had forgotten how to live. Pastor Rick Warren said years ago “that you can waste your life, spend your life or invest your life.” I was wasting my life hiding behind a false self.

Let me leave you with these powerful words from Richard Rohr: “Our core anxiety that we are not good enough is resolved from the beginning, and we can stop all our climbing, contending, criticizing, and competing. All “accessorizing” of any small, fragile self henceforth shows itself to be a massive waste of time and energy. Costume jewelry is just that, a small part of an already unnecessary costume.”

Forgiving My Father

My failure to forgive my father for all the abuse and humiliation he inflicted upon me acted as a barrier to greater healing within me. For years I was consumed with anger, hatred and bitterness towards him.

The years of beatings with belts, electrical cords, wooden spoons, and whatever he could get his hands on left me deeply fractured. The onslaught of words such as sissy, stupid, never good enough, and “worthless piece of shit” imprinted upon me that I was defective.

The man that I hoped would invite me into his world and teach me what it meant to be a man time and again crushed whatever masculine strength I had within me. He left me fractured, broken and shattered to try and figure life on my own. I hated him with every fiber of my being.

This infinite emptiness that I felt left me to deal with issues of self-acceptance, shame, addiction to pornography, drugs and sex, and emotional dependent relationships that became sexualized. Add to the above list deep feelings of rejection and abandonment. These feelings of abandonment were at the root of my addictions and over bonding with broken others.

At the age of nineteen I accepted Jesus into my heart and had a honeymoon of almost three years enjoying my newfound faith. Then a conversation with another Christian about forgiveness shook me to the core of my being. She showed me time and again in the Scriptures Jesus command to forgive. This conviction inspired by the Holy Spirit came upon me to forgive my stepfather but I resisted the conviction because I wanted my revenge. I left that meeting knowing what the Spirit was calling me to but I resisted His prompting.

My feelings of being robbed, deprived and dispossessed by my stepfather seemed to have rose up during that encounter and somehow allowed me to justify the choice I had made to resist. Something precious had been torn away from me. I was not going to let the memory or the pain of that go so easily. The pain and the abyss it had left constantly reminded me of his failure to father me well.

Yet the Holy Spirit was not going to let me off so easily. Three months later I got in touch with that pain at a seminar I had attended. There was this woman seated behind a potter’s wheel and she took a lump of clay and began to form a vase out of that lump. She talked about how we are created to bear God’s image. While the wheel is spinning she talks about how his gentle hands form and shape us. I’m sitting near the front watching this beautiful vase take shape. I’m engaged, she has pulled me in with this visual, and I want to see the finished product.

Then out of nowhere she takes a left-turn and talks about how abuse, (verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and neglect) damage that process. As she is sharing, her voice rising, she is pounding the vase with her fists to destroy the beautiful image. I am a mess! Tears, pain, rage, and anger begin to rise within me and I want to run out of the room. I am not sure how but I remained present until the ministry time and practically crawled forward for prayer. I sobbed for an hour and a half. Clueless to what was happening. I finally figured out that it was that place within me that was abused and felt unloved as a child and all the submerged pain, grief, and anger that I had never expressed towards my stepfather because of his abuse was coming forth.

This was the work of the Holy Spirit because I would’ve never publicly grieved in such a manner. In the midst of my purging I felt safe in a roomful of people.

Fortunately for me that night three skilled prayer ministers led me to the feet of Jesus so that my experience would be redemptive. They directed me to ask Jesus that night to bear the sin that had been done against; to release me from my hatred towards my stepfather; to take my pain that was deeply buried; and to bear my grief of not having a father that was tender, loving and affectionate. Up and out came years of pain, hate, anger, bitterness, vengeful feelings to the point of feeling emptied before God. I arose that night feeling like a weight had been lifted. This is what is referred to as a death unto resurrection. Although painful, this death brought forth within me a greater life, joy and hope. But it was only the beginning of my processing my pain, grief and loss and forgiving my stepfather for his abuse of me.

As I began to understand that my healing wasn’t going to be as neat and clean as I had planned I realized I had to learn how to fight through the shame that wanted to keep me paralyzed and unresponsive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

I still had a ways to go before all of the sludge of my hate, bitterness and resentment towards my stepfather was resolved. In facing my wounds at the foot of the cross, I learned that night I had a place to go with all of my pain, hate, anger, and bitterness. I no longer had to remain infected by the pain of my past.

My once hardened heart had become much more tender as I received the comfort of God’s powerful Presence that night. Through many similar encounters in my Living Waters group, small groups in church, one on one prayer ministry, and conference’s I attended, God the Holy Spirit was purging the bile of my angry, bitter heart.

It took years, but there came a day where I felt so clear towards my stepfather. No longer wanting revenge, no longer hating him when he came to mind, but filled with mercy and grace towards him.  I knew that day that God had freed me from the pain and abuse that he had inflicted upon me years before.

People ask me how could you forgive a man that had so abused and mistreated you for so many years. I tell them about a quiet moment with the Lord where he revealed how merciful he had been to me to forgive me of my many sins that if shared you’d be appalled. Because of and fully aware of the tender mercy I had received from God it released me to easily release my stepfather from his sin towards me.