"Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” – God, to Himself, in Genesis 1, speaking about mankind
“When you eat of the forbidden tree, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” – Satan, to mankind, in Genesis 3
“The freedom that Christ came to give comes to those who stop trying so hard to be what God already made them.” – Yours Truly
“Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” – Philippians 3:16
I sat with a wonderfully energetic, powerful, fully present, lover of people yesterday who was explaining to me how overwhelmed, tired, unsure, ashamed, doubtful and diminished she was.
The circumstances of her life humbled me. She is dealing with a lot. The spot she sits in is full of trouble. As with us all, they are partly the tragic result of some self-defeating decisions she has made, and partly the result of some injustices that people around her have inflicted.
She afforded me the pleasure of sifting through it all with her. And as we tried to isolate a few of the various tributaries that are feeding the furious waterfall that is beating down on her, we identified a few things:
1. She is struggling to trust God. – And it’s so understandable. Why is she trying so hard to be devoted to God and being “cursed” while others don’t seem to have a care in the world for God and are so “blessed” and carefree?
2. She is overwhelmed by guilt. – She humbly admits mistakes, one in particular screams loudly at her, and she is sure she deserves whatever consequences she gets.
3. She has spiritual questions that can’t be answered with certainty. – You know how frustrating this is. Why did God make us in the first place? Why did He give us the opportunity to choose badly? Why does,n’t He answer my believing prayers every time?
4. She is exhausted from her striving. – In her words, she’s trying to be “mom-of-the-year", “teacher-of-the-year”, “wife-of-the-year,” and “Christian of the year” all without letting anyone down, and all of it in the midst of impossible demands, emotional drains, unfair circumstances, fights to make amends, uncooperative people, and weighty decisions to make.
How many of us are or have been here? Finally admitting these heart-disturbing conditions is always the first step to overcoming them, and sharing them with another, and ultimately with God, is the next. And the healing that comes (not without a fight, of course) becomes the source of a very new peace, joy, and life to the full.
All of them, but number 4 in particular, reminded me of a concept that concerns her identity…her true one, her perceived true one, and finally the one that she was presenting to the world.
I called it “the three circles.”
The first, outer circle is the identity we work very hard to present to the world “out there” (and in a way, to ourselves in the mirror). It is how we wish to be viewed, but we know it’s not true. We present ourselves as smart, strong, competent, capable, secure, gifted, determined, loving, forgiving, happy, passionate, unstoppable, invulnerable, responsible, dependable, worthy, desirable human beings. Oh, we all do it differently through different means, but we do it. It is exhausting, spirit-killing work…but we must do it because we know just underneath it is the horrible truth of…
The second circle is what we perceive as our true identity. We are stupid, weak, incompetent, incapable, insecure, average, lazy, hateful, spiteful, judgmental, depressed, vulnerable, irresponsible, unworthy, undesirable wretches. We know it is true because we have the mistakes, cruelties, sins, and the opinions of a host of others to prove it. This “true me” is found just underneath the mask of the first circle, and it is so devastating to face up to or consider, that even though the upkeep of the total pretense is stealing our life, we keep doing it. Why? To admit it feels like relational, marital, personal, and/or professional suicide. So we “kill ourselves” fighting for our lives.
A few people (more and more all the time, in my opinion) get so sick and tired of this game that they will finally hear, somewhere and in some form, the message of Christ. And suddenly, they dare to hope. Even though it is a dream beyond dreams, this fake life isn’t cutting it and they will either have “more” or they will die seeing if it exists.
Those are the people, once they are serious about having life to the full, once they are willing to put the claims of Jesus Christ to the test, those are the people who finally shed the first circle and face all of the consequences of the dreaded second one. They stop pretending. They risk it all, and they expose their (perceived, mind you) true self. The horrifying, ugly, unacceptable, dirty, and sin-scarred self.
And when they do, they will be shocked when they survive it. This would be enough, mind you, enough to go on having realized that their mistakes do not kill them…their hiding them, denying them, and masking them does! It is a liberating, life-giving truth.
But what’s more, they will also find out (by using the same newfound sense of honesty and integrity that dismantled the outer circle) that their perception of the second circle as their true identity is equally unfounded. With the help of a fellowship of people who have committed to the same dramatic opting-out of the life-as-usual-game, and with the enlightenment of God Himself, they will joyfully find out that there is a truer truth.
They will find, down there past the pain, the third circle. The final and immovable truth about their identity. And what they will find is that they are quite naturally everything good that they were striving so hard to be.
In the opening poem of the Bible…God explains that He made mankind like God…in His own image. It then goes on to explain that Satan told mankind that to be like God, they merely needed to reach out and get it themselves. Do you see it? He promised something to man that man already was. Did man want to be “like God”? Absolutely! Did man need to strive in order to be so? Absolutely not! Brilliantly evil, this serpent was.
We’re still doing this today. We are all striving to be what it is that we already are. How silly would it be for my son Jakin to work really, really, really hard, for the rest of his life, to be a Mashburn? How insanely unproductive would it be for my daughter Callie to look at how much of a Mashburn her little brother Jakin is, and then work and wish to be half the Mashburn that he is. How needlessly tiring it would be for my son Shade to think he need to strive at all to find his identity as a Mashburn.
When I told her of her strength, her glow, her obvious love and powerful presence… she laughed, thinking she had me fooled. She thinks that the best my observation can be is an affirmation that she has done a good job keeping up the facade.
It is her that is fooled. I have been, too. You probably have too.
Another friend, one who was gracious enough to process this with me back in our twenties gave me a gift once, putting to words this concept of the Three Circles. It pretty much sums it up…and still sits framed on a shelf in my office.
So to my old friend Chris, and to my new friend yesterday, and to all of you my friends who are also gracious enough to process this life with me (and if you read all this, then you really are doing so!)…I want you all to know the truth. Read them slowly…maybe just one a day. Let their truth take over.
You are priceless. (Matt 10:31)
You are strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
You are forgiven. (Eph 1:7-8)
You are redeemed. (Gal 3:13-14)
You are worthy. (2 Thess 1:5)
You are dearly loved. (Col 3:12)
You are God’s masterpiece. (Eph 2:10)
You are God’s dwelling place. (1 Cor 3:16)
You are God’s image. (Gen 1:26-27)
You are God’s child. (Rom 8:15)
“Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” – Philippians 3:16