“Just Become Yourself”: A Bad Line from a Disney Movie or the Wisest Counsel of All?

Become yourself.

It might sound like a bad line from a Disney movie. Or a trite piece of advice from a self-help guru.

I was working with a client in the first years I practiced as a therapist. After six weeks of work, she spontaneously uttered, “I think I’m done with counseling. I’ve found myself!” To which I uttered kiddingly, “Wow, I’m really good at this.”

Her revelation was real and deeply felt. In week 5 of counseling, she’d left a manipulative abuser. We celebrated her courage! In her first five days of freedom, she cut her hair (he insisted she keep it long), she burned a photo album, and she bought two new outfits she’d wanted for months. She came in to our session beaming, convinced of her lasting freedom and blessed autonomy.

While I celebrated her very real experience of life and vitality, I (perhaps for the first time) used a story I’d later draw upon in my first book. I said, “I imagine you feel a lit bit like the Israelites felt on that first day out of slavery, released from their oppressors and overwhelmed by the promise of freedom. But, I suspect for you, just like them, the wilderness lies ahead. And that’s where we’ll do the real work together. That’s where the real freedom is found.”

I like inviting men and women to become themselves, and I’ve retitled my blog in this season because I want to reclaim this invitation, allowing it to be enriched by a larger story, a better promise, a rich spirituality of becoming. Becoming oneself is not like flipping a psychological light-switch within. It’s not about finding your autonomy. It’s not about becoming an individual, but a person, not about finding independence, but a surrendered dependence. Aleksandr Kutakh walking 1

Listen to Thomas Merton’s depiction of this journey:

“Now if we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily men dedicate themselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive uncontrollable dynamic of fabrication designed to protect mere fictitious identities – ‘selves,’ that is to say, regarded as objects. … Such is the ignorance which is taken to be the axiomatic foundation of all knowledge in the human collectivity: in order to experience yourself as real, you have to suppress the awareness of your contingency, your unreality, your state of radical need. This you do by creating awareness of yourself as one who has no needs that he cannot immediately fill.” (from Raids on the Unspeakable) 

My tradition says it this way:

Q. 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?

A. That I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ

I’m convinced that becoming oneself is the work of a lifetime, as each and every one of our clenched fists of control relaxes as we discover that we’re unfathomably held and loved. I’m convinced that becoming oneself happens as we identify and remove every mask we’ve hid behind in our effort to make ourselves, and as we discover the beauty of those fatherly words from Luke 15: Everything I have is yours. 

Isn’t this what we long for – to be held, to be known, to discover infinite worth and delight?

And so…

Our becoming is a part of a larger story.

Our becoming is a lifelong journey.

Our becoming leads us into a relationship of surrendered dependence.

Our becoming requires many little deaths along the way.

Our becoming awakens us to a life not of hiding, but of hiddenness – “hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3).

Disney tells a pretty good story. This one is just a whole lot better.

 

God is always present. We’re not.

I had one of the those soulful conversations today you have with someone who can finish your sentences. My friend Josh is a spiritual director, and he and I share a conviction some might find outlandish. We feel like we’re on pretty solid ground, though. After all, the venerable St. Augustine said it first.

God is more near to you than you are to yourself.

Let that sink in for the next 50 years. God is home. But we are away. God abides. But we wander. God pursues. But we drift.

When I was younger, I had a strong theology of God’s sovereignty, God’s omniscience, even God’s judgment. But I must have missed the best news of all – God has made his home in me. And in you. And God is infinitely and unfathomably delighted in you.

I shared this while teaching a group of twenty-somethings at a large evangelical church this past week. They’re sincere and passionate. They pray hard. They circle up and call upon God to show up, to be present, to come near. But then they blow it. They drink a little too much, or click on a pornographic website that links to another and to another, all-the-while wondering what God must think. They raise their hands in praise, but five minutes later find themselves gossiping about the person who hasn’t shown up for a few weeks. In other words, they’re like you and me.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.

And then the guilt and shame sets in. Damn it, God. I’m sorry. You feel so far away right now. And I’m so bad. How can I make it up to you? Guilt…that’s it. I’ll just feel worse about myself. And really wallow in it this time. But seriously…you’re so far away. So, I’ll do my best to deserve you. 

Like the prodigal, we wander. But God is at home all-the-while, residing in the very depths of your soul, not-at-all surprised by your restless spirit, smiling at your silly attempts to win approval. Did you think you could wander away from Love? Do you think I’m that fickle? 

God is more near to you than you are to yourself.

Let that sink in.