Peace often comes through pain. Pain or struggle seems almost necessary to find peace, and has been a theme running though many of the posts since the start of this project. I’d like to offer my thoughts today on why that is.
In Romans 7 Paul makes a curious statement about doing things he doesn’t want to do and not doing things he wants to do. At one point he says it’s not him sinning but it is the sin that dwells within him. That’s strange isn’t it? We look at ourselves in the mirror and think of the reflection as “me”. We look at our friends and recognize them by their face or voice if they call us on the phone. When we think of our parents, we can see their face in our minds. So what is Paul talking about? How could his “flesh” not be him?
There is a dichotomy in our being. It’s a split that leaves a lot of people confused and one that cripples many people in guilt and leads others to fundamentalism. I think Paul is pointing this out to us through his letter. Where I have to disagree with Paul is when he says that his flesh is not him. Let’s get into this.
The split is between our true and false selves. The Christian tradition refers to these as flesh and spirit. Some call them ego and soul. I like false and true self, so those are the terms I’ll be using.
Let’s start with the false self or the ego. The flesh. This is our personality. I am Adam. My false self is Adam. I play music. I write for 25 days of peace. I am a father, a husband, a Christian. An American. That’s my false self. It’s not false in a way that it doesn’t matter or it’s bad. It just is what it is and it has a role and place in the whole of who I am (what I think Paul is actually doing is trying to get us to identify more with our true selves, which I’ll get to). You have a false self too, and it is the origin of the pain the search for peace seems to bring about. More on the false self later.
The true self is your spirit. It’s never changing. When we are hurt emotionally our true self is where we find the strength to move through it. It is a never ending source of peace and joy. I made an offhand comment in an earlier post that peace is the default mode of every person. This is why. I don’t believe our true selves are individual. When the scripture talk about the Holy Spirit coming on a person, what I think is really happening is they have been made aware of their true self. We are not separate from God in this realm of our being. “Nothing can separate us from the love of the father.” Sound familiar? True self. This is where our peace comes from.
I could write 50 pages on each self so let’s get into the roles of each.
The false self is like a car. Or an avatar if you are a gamer. It has limitations and it has no idea what it is doing by itself. Have you ever been in a situation where you have to make a choice and you just can’t? Chances are it’s your false self trying to decide. The false self is a hedonist, and it wants to run the show. Self driving cars ruin the analogy, but you get the idea. The catch is, without our false self we couldn’t function in society. Our false self is where we make judgements about things. It’s how we relate to each other. Our false self is what nails that interview for the dream job. Like I said, it’s not necessarily bad, it just shouldn’t be where we live from. The false self is just the car, not the driver (though many people let it drive). When Jesus said you must lose your life to gain it, he was talking about losing the false self.
The true self is a hard thing to describe in a tangible way. In the analogy is it’s the driver. We talk about seeing with the eyes of Christ or living a Christ centered life. Through the true self is the way we do that. This is how we can love even the worst people. This is why even the alcoholic, the racist, the Muslim, and the pedophile are all worthy of love and dignity. That’s your false self disagreeing with me right now. Our true self knows we are unable to disconnect ourselves from those people. Our true selves know there are no “us” and “them”. Our true self knows God isn’t far away. He’s right here. Our true selves know what we need at the deepest levels of our being. The true self is the deepest level. The eternal level.
I think it’s pretty obvious when we meet someone who’s in touch with their true self. There’s an ease about them, a peace. They are those people that seem to know where to be and what to do. They’re present. They’re light.
I think of Biff from Back to the Future as a good example of someone living completely from their false self. Or people obsessed with image and power.
The hardest lesson to learn once you get in touch with your true self is to figure out how to “steer” the false self (mind and body) with the true self (spirit). In this life we are both. We can’t separate them and be whole. They are both us, but if the two are not in their proper roles our lives become disoriented. Chaotic even. We can have what seems to be peace when our false self is in control, but as soon as the dopamine dries up, we’re looking for the next thing to get that fix. On the other hand if we live only from our true selves we are described as being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. An integrated person has found the balance.
The churches I’ve been in like to use the analogy of a God shaped hole in our hearts that we try to fill with sex, drugs, and rock an roll. I’d like to offer an analogy instead, right from the Gospel. The Jewish temple. The outer courts and the holy of holies. True salvation comes to us when we allow the veil to be torn. The veil was torn in the temple to reveal god had left the premises. In fact, I don’t believe he was ever there. The whole temple setup is an analogy to who we are and how we ought to live. Everything that happened in the outer courts was in service of the holy of holies. When power and greed take over the outer courts we see Jesus come and turn over the tables. This is Jesus’ call to die to ourselves. His death on the cross shows us how far the false self will go to protect itself, to hold control of the systems its built. His death tears the veil between our true and false self. His death is the addict’s rock bottom. It’s Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s Miracle on 34th Street. It’s “blessed are the poor in spirit”. It’s salvation. It’s true and lasting peace.
May you learn to live from your true self, through your false self, and always have hope that in doing so others can wake up and do the same.