“One of the gifts of spiritual direction is that it enables us to present ourselves willingly to God and to God’s dreams for us. We enter spiritual direction, often hoping to give up illusory facades, to let go of judging and be willing to notice whatever arises. We realize how mixed we are inside and out, but we desire to be open to grace. We even acknowledge our fears that some of the “real truth” could leak out past our best efforts to appear wise, decent, loving, kind—even godly.”
As you “listened in” on Jeannette’s conversation with her directee, you likely noticed common themes that the mask of the false self asserts on us all. A friend who is a spiritual director often asks if I feel driven toward something, or drawn to it. I like that language— it allows me to observe what elements of my false self are at play. The true self is always curious, open to invitations— being “drawn.” The false self however, is usually “driven.” The directee in this scenario does an excellent job of describing her false-self: “I’ve had the most peculiar sensation that I was missing, that I was functioning like some kind of machine. Even though it felt good to get so much done, I began questioning my criteria for evaluating my days. I heard myself valuing my life because of what I did, what other people thought of my performance, and what I could buy. That sounded off-key, very attuned to my culture, not so congruent with my faith.”
Distinguishing between the duplicities of personality is something that has always kept humanity curious, especially so in the 20th century with the rise of psychoanalytic psychology. We wonder how it is possible that these opposing sides of our self are continually at war with each other. The true self and false self (originally named by Donald Winnicott) describe the battle to become integrated/actualized persons capable of authentic relationship with our self and others. When we examine this task through the lens of Scripture, as writers in this issue of Conversations have done, it’s evident that our Creator desires for us to live our days fully and freely as our true selves. The True Self/False Self dilemma could also be seen as a true gospel vs false gospel viewpoint. A false gospel is characterized by striving and pushing, like the directee in the spiritual direction excerpt here, instead of receiving and resting. The gospel gives us the freedom to receive God’s love, not earn it. Or as teacher and author Jennie Allen puts it, “We don’t have to measure up, because Jesus measured up for us.”
As Jeannette explains in this article, “the ‘already but not yet’ is often apparent in spiritual direction conversations. When we continue to seek a deepening relationship with God, we may notice our struggle for authenticity. We discover our particular mix of mask and truth and become more familiar with the interplay between our taking control and our being willingly available to God—between our willingness and our willfulness. But even with this growing awareness, there will always be much that remains hidden.” A skilled spiritual director attunes to God’s presence, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide the process and insights.
A few pages earlier in this issue, Larry Crabb reflected on the importance of having a soul friend— someone who we can trust deeply with our true selves. The gift of spiritual direction is that it can help us become more aware of, and at home in our true selves as we respond to the invitations to receive God’s pure love. “We can support and encourage this freedom by paying attention in the midst of daily life and through times set aside for spiritual practices such as prayer, solitude, and spiritual direction.” (Bakke, p28)
Let’s consider some of the questions Jeannette offered to the directee. Set aside some time for yourself in a quiet place. If you haven’t yet read Jan Johnson’s article on page 67, it’s a helpful framework for why solitude mattered so much to Jesus, and why it would do us good as we get in touch with our true-self. Feel free to write your responses to the questions below in a journal, or if you prefer, reflect on them as you enter into a conversation with Jesus about what you’re learning. For bonus points, consider sharing about this exercise with one of your soul friends. (Just kidding, there are no bonus points in whole-hearted living…that was just a test of your false self!)
- What in my thinking and behavior seems to draw me toward God? Toward listening for God’s intentions and nudges, calling me to question my ways of being and relating in the world?
- When am I likely to notice my own false-self behaviors so that I have the opportunity to explore them with God and ask for the transformation I desire?
- What relationships encourage me to live more congruently with the true self? How do I make space for these?
- What things/experiences/relationship bring about my “driven-ness”? (Making me strive, earn, and prove) What things/experiences/relationships make me drawn toward them? (Providing invitations for rest, receiving and living as my true self)