Wrestling with the False Self.

Recently I’ve been thinking a great deal about the “False Self”. The Thomas Merton qoute that I posted a few posts ago has been ricocheting around inside of my being and it can sometimes lead to severe mind melt! Here’s an excerpt from that quote that reminds us of what we all contend with day in and day out:

“All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honour, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real.”

So then this leads me to ask the question, “What am I using to clothe my false self?” What I do? What I own? Approval from others?

For example, I play drums in a rock band. This rock band is somewhat successful and enjoys the benefits of many loyal fans who come to our concerts, buy our t-shirts and listen to our albums. My false self is affirmed nightly by loud cheers and clapping hands. Yet, if I am consider that there is a very real distinction between my false self and my real (S)elf, then I need to somehow rearrange how I identify with myself. I need to ignore or shed the validation my false self receives from the value systems of this world. And while this aspect of my false self that is wrapped up in what I do is a very big hurdle, it is only one aspect. It’s daunting. I find myself wondering if whether or not even the “noble” things that I do are to simply bolster my false self. Do I do good deeds in order to consider myself that I am a good deed doer? The line between selfishness and selflessness becomes unclear.

And if this distinction is real, then what in me constitutes my true Self? Merton writes, “My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love.” If this is the case, then my true self must in some way not be me but God in me. Pastor Shane preached about this several weeks ago. In Romans 8, Paul paints a picture of two opposing forces within each of us: Flesh and Spirit. As Shane put it, ego and essence. Or maybe we can say it this way: our true identity is our identity in Christ. Everything else, what we do, what we own, what we want to achieve, the way we look, how hard our band rocks, how many people attend our churches…….it’s all a myth. We can only be in tune to God’s will and freely receive God’s unconditional love for us if we stop allowing the value systems of this world influence our motives. To shed the ego and the world’s framework in which the ego thrives is to come face to face with the love of God already in you. Your true Self.


8 thoughts on “Wrestling with the False Self.

  1. It’s so true that we in the Christian culture are not immune from falling to the desires of the false self. Even people who are very much in tune with God’s love working in their life can slip into placing the validation of others before the validation that God is continually providing through His Spirit. The value systems of this world are bogus and ego will fall every single time we bring ourselves face to face with God’s love. May we continue to bring ourselves to remembrance of what Christ has done.

  2. In my own rasslin’ with this concept I have found the writings of Brennan Manning extremely transformational. Especially Abba’s Child, which calls the false self the “impostor” that each of us must confront. Peace to you,

  3. This may not be where you are going with this but I can’t help but think of the first three chapters or so of 1 Corinthians and how it talks about serving through your weakness. Contrast between “The worlds wisdom and the wisdom of God”…
    Good stuff.

  4. I really enjoyed this post. I seem to be struggling with similar thoughts these days. Sometimes it is the simple truths that we must remember everyday.

  5. Perhaps we can gain some insight from the famed theological heavyweight Mr. Stephen Schwartz:

    “One question haunts and hurts too much, too much to mention:
    Was I really seeking good? Or just seeking attention?
    Is that all good deeds are when looked at with an ice-cold eye?
    If that’s all good deeds are maybe that’s the reason why
    No good deed goes unpunished…”

    Yes, it’s from “Wicked.” Couldn’t help throwing this in! (If you’re not familiar, I’d highly recommend a download of “No Good Deed.” Or the whole soundtrack!)

    Anybody read Don Miller’s “Searching For God Knows What”? Wonderful book, and I think it contributes a bit to this topic, as well.

  6. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the negative theory of “false self”. It seems by actually pursuing any interest at all we are affirming our “false self”. I disagree, otherwise the only way to be 100% yourSelf is to do absolutely nothing. There is a self constructed motivation behind everything we choose to do (this excludes those things we have no choice but to do (breathe, eat etc).

    Personally I feel those things we choose to do define our character; they are essentially good things. That you chose to learn drums developed your charcter in some way, that you have experienced success and thus travelled a lot again broadens your character. They only become negative when we start to use them to feel we’re better than other people, become boastful about them etc; and conversely if we start to feel we are worse than someone who is better at something than us – jealousy.

    I feel one of the most important things in our lives is our sense of self-worth, our self identity. In some ways I establish both by giving myself challenges to overcome in whichever fields I so choose. I judge myself on these successes and failures, in all fields, including those that I feel make me a good or bad person. As an example I like to buy my girlfriend flowers, I do this because I know it makes her happy, thus in turn making me happy; there is no doubt I do this to make myself feel good about myself, I would not contend that point, but I would strongly disagree that this is massaging my false self to anyone’s detriment.

    I think ego has little if any value, but I feel there is a clear distinction between appreciating praise for your actions and being egotistical.

    This is a fascinating subject and it is difficult to aptly describe my points. But again I am quite firmly agnostic and as such don’t feel the desire/struggle to experience God’s love in the way you have described. That said I don’t want to use that as a cop out, because I consider religious debate valuable as it makes me question my and our morality.

  7. JI, thanks for the comment.

    As a believer in a Creator, I am trying to identify my value based on my inherent connection or union with that Creator. In a sense, you’re right. My self worth should not be a product of DOING but an awareness of BEING. When I can stop doing or achieving to find value in my life, the distinctions of good and bad or success and failure evaporate. I believe this duality cripples our life experience because it feeds the beast of ego-centric desires. Because of this duality, we are constantly comparing ourselves and judging others based on distinctions that are themselves lies or myths. There is no need for “I am good and he is bad” because my true Self knows that those kinds of categories don’t exist.

    Also, to clarify, I did not mean to imply that all noble actions could be written off as ultimately egotistical. I was trying to say that when attempting noble gestures, it might be wise to put that gesture into it’s proper context. Maybe it’s healthy to ask ourselves why we do what we do, even when on the surface, what we are doing is generally seen as a “good” thing.

    A you’ve pointed out, you giving flowers to your girlfriend will ultimately make you happy as well. I totally agree with you that this is a great thing. After all,if you are connected or in union with her to any significant degree, which I assume you are, her happiness is yours, as well as her pain. Now may we all give flowers to not only our loved ones, but to the rest of the world! 🙂

  8. Zach,

    Hey man. I’m a long time lurker/reader, been around emergent for a few years…I was trying to find a way to send you private message but could only reach you this way. I have a favor to ask for a friend. Is there any way you could contact me back the email address camiloruan@yahoo.com?

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