To not accept ourselves as we are is to go into hiding, a refusal to see who we really are. It’s even more than a matter of hiding from ourselves; it also entails the creation of a new self to take the place of the real one. It is this new self that we hold up to the world—and even to ourselves—as the real thing, even though it is but a mere façade, a front, a mask. It is an image that we demand the world to accept in place of reality.
How do we construct this new image to make it believable? We do it in many ways: through the designer clothes we wear, money, success, influence, power, popularity, the clubs we join, and even our educational attainments. We will do anything that will hide the real self and promote the new, idealized self. One dear friend—I’ll call him “John”—even passed out recently when his real self, with all of its warts and failures, began to emerge in an embarrassing social situation.
This quest to prove oneself is endless and life-controlling. It pits the two selves against one-another in trench warfare. The real self, although suppressed, is always trying to emerge. It is like an air-filled-balloon trying to rise to the surface in the ocean as we strenuously try to keep it down and out of sight.
In The Significant Life, attorney George M. Weaver documents this endless struggle in many ways:
- Salvador Dali once said, “The thought
of not being recognized [is] unbearable”…Lady Gaga sings, “I live for the
applause, applause, applause…the way that you cheer and scream for me.”
She adds in another song, “yes we live for the Fame, Doin’ it for the
Fame, Cuz we wanna live the life of the rich and famous” (7).
Comedian Al Jolson had achieved fame, but it was never enough to insulate him from jealousy:
- According to his biographer, “He once had a team of performing elephants fired because he thought the audience liked them too much” (59).
Weaver also documents people who have committed heinous crimes, especially against celebrities, so that they too could achieve some degree of notoriety and significance.
However, all our attempts to establish a new and significant self are doomed to fail. Ultimately, in the process, we alienate ourselves from who we really are and even from others. Relationships require the common ground that only being real can provide. When we offer an image instead of who we really are, there is little of substance with which to engage. It is like inviting a friend over for an imaginary meal.
When we accept ourselves and are no longer interested in designing a bubble—a bubble which we will allow no one to burst—we are offering our friend a real meal.
However, self-acceptance—confronting and receiving the truth about ourselves after years of self-deception—can be nearly impossible. It can be so painful that we would rather pass out than take a deep look at ourselves. However, avoiding who we really are is not a viable option. If we choose to live this way, we are forced to live as creatures of the darkness and the lie.
The battle between the darkness and the light can also bring on severe depression. It did with me. I had tried desperately to hold on to my constructed, idealized image of myself. However, in the midst of failures and rejections, it had become increasingly difficult. These setbacks plunged me into deep depression. Meanwhile, I continued a fruitless and exhausting war to keep my real self submerged.
This struggle brought me to several psychologists. However, they did not know how to lift me from my rut. Instead, they confirmed and tried to restore my constructed, idealized image by building my self-esteem. However, this served no purpose other than reinforcing my defensive bunker against the assaults of reality.
My friend John was told that he would need a pacemaker to keep his heart beating normally and thus avoid passing out. He almost had the pacemaker implanted until another specialist advised him that a pacemaker would not really address his problem. His heart was perfect. Instead, he had a psychological issue.
John now understands that his real problem was a failure to fully accept himself—including his failures and inadequacies. He has also come to understand the answer to his dilemma. He explained that he now accepts the fact that he has failed at so many things and freely admits that he has some embarrassing weaknesses.
How was he finally able to accept this truth about himself? He had returned once again to the fact that Christ accepts him just the way He is. Yes, he is inadequate—just like all the rest of us—but he has now re-embraced the truth that he has a Savior who is entirely adequate. This Savior cries out:
· “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30; ESV).
We are all “heavy laden” and we all need His rest. Without this rest, we will continue to labor, fighting against ourselves, to maintain a costly self-delusion.