The False Self

Have you ever seen the movie Into the Wild? I have always placed it as my all-time favorite movie, but to be honest, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the two Sherlock Holmes movies are in the running as well. Into the Wild is based on a true story of a man named Christopher McCandless, who graduated from college and from there left everything in his possession behind (even went as so far to burn his social security card). He was on a pilgrimage and his destination was Alaska. He was a deep thinker who had thoughtful and meaningful questions about life. One of the things I admire about him was that he did not simply swallow the answers his culture fed him. He was a radical no doubt, and although he realized at the end of his life that his initial conclusions were wrong, the journey that he took was a precious one. When Christopher finally arrived and had spent some time in Alaska alone, he carved these words on a piece of wood:

Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no20130318-173123.jpg cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ’cause “the West is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild

His ultimate goal in this spiritual pilgrimage was to kill the “false self” within. It is a noble pursuit certainly, and in some ways I think it is the pursuit of the Christian as well. What I am particularly interested in as of late though is what perpetuates the need for the false self? Why do we tend to keep the multiplicity of masks and to show ourselves to others as something we are not? This happens both in and out of the church, but it is particularly troubling when it happens within a believing community. The church is a place for self-proclaimed wounded healers and nothing more. Out of the awareness of our brokenness and the love lavished on us by God we are to be healers in the world. The question remains: Why do we struggle with perpetuating the false self to deceive others and ourselves of who we really are? My one thought for this blog is this: how we have been received by people in the deep of our bad has shaped whether or not we abandon the false self or keep it around to guard from the further wounding that could come from revealing to others who we truly are.

I suppose what I am getting at specifically is how we have been received when/if we confess our sin to another (although the above idea could be applied to more than that) human being. What we have received from people when we reveal our true nature determines a lot about us I am afraid. I think it goes back to how we were raised, and how we were disciplined by our parents as well. Have you been met with disdain, bitterness and punishment or with unending grace and love? It something worth reflecting on, because all of this in turn affects what we project onto to God, too. My favorite dead person, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this about confession:

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody conceals his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

I love Bonhoeffer in this and everywhere else. To break the cycle of perpetuating the false self we need people in our who are willing to be an extension of Jesus’ grace and mercy. Just like Jesus, we need to be people and include people in our lives who are compassionate and therefore like Nouwen states, “for them, nothing human is alien”. We fear being unloved in the deep of our bad, and yes we are deeply loved by Jesus, but part of being loved by Jesus is experiencing this reality in community. It is only the person who is an extension of Christ’s grace who can hear the sin of another and have compassion on that person and speak to them the truth of profound grace and reassurance. We need that in our churches in order to curb the false self that keeps trucking along without any interruption. We can come out of hiding to be exposed yet simultaneously fully embraced. I think the killing of the false self begins by throwing it off and locating people who will mirror and reflect how Jesus receives us.


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