Heading south from Orlando to Yeehaw Junction, the Florida Turnpike traverses a vast stretch of real estate inhabited almost exclusively by alligators, herons, snakes, and fish. It’s a lengthy forty-seven miles across the swamp without a single exit. Last Thursday, traveling to south Florida to speak at a men’s conference, I found myself stuck in traffic ten miles short of the Yeehaw Junction exit. My GPS informed me that it would take two hours to cover the next ten miles.
With nowhere to go, I settled in for the long slow grind ahead of me. As I watched people in the cars ahead get out to stretch their legs, I put on some of my favorite worship music to pass the time. The topic for my upcoming talk was around identity, and as I sat there thinking, the Lord gave me some insight on how I might sharpen my talk and make it more understandable. Within my heart, I heard, “My Three Me’s”. There is the “me I let you see”, the “me I see in the mirror”, and the “me the Father sees”.
The “me I let you see” is a pretender and protector. This is the image of myself that I project into the world. It is my public persona or identity. In Biblical terms, imagine Adam and Eve immediately after the fall. Almost immediately, they sewed themselves together fig leaves to cover their nakedness. The Scriptures tell us that they were “naked and ashamed”.
Allegorically, their nakedness represented the diminishment of God’s glory within them because of sin. After all, they were naked before the fall. But because of the fall, Adam and Eve realized that that they were somehow ‘less’ than they had been. Nakedness and shame together represented the realization of sin and brokenness, within themselves and in the other.
The “me I let you see” is, on one hand, a pretender. This me pretends and projects into the world my striving for value and worth. Whether we strive for success, or image, or reputation, all of these are just pretend, they do not define who we are. John Eldredge, author of the men’s book, Wild At Heart, rather famously describes this as a ‘poser’. This me is also a protector. This protector “me” in each of us keeps us safe from having to confront what we believe to be the truths of our own lives- “the me I see in the mirror”.
Me In the Mirror
When we look in the mirror, we see ourselves through the lens of our lives. As a simple example, I bear a strong physical resemblance to my father, so when I look in the mirror, I also see him. When we look in the mirror of our lives, our view of ourselves is really like looking in a cracked mirror. The mirror is cracked because of the sin and brokenness that we have experienced in our lives. We’ve come to believe things about ourselves, others, and God that simply are not in alignment with God’s perspective.
When we look in the mirror, we can pretty quickly get in touch with these beliefs. They may be things like, “I’m stupid, I’m a failure, I’m inadequate, I’m ugly, I’m alone, or nobody loves me.” These beliefs are connected to deeper hurts. Our “Pretender/Protector” shields our shame from the world. Unfortunately, we also use that self to shield ourselves from our own hurt, and create an artificial identity to see instead of the painful truth. As a result, these lies become ingrained, sneaking into the deepest recesses of our lives. Both the Protector/Pretender, and the Me in the Mirror, are false selves.
The Me the Father Sees
When Jesus came up out of the waters of the Jordan River following His baptism, Heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him. God the Father spoke words of blessing over Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The Father was blessing Jesus’ very identity. Remember Jesus, up to that point, didn’t have a ministry. He had not healed anybody, raised anyone from the dead, or even walked on water. The Father blessed Him just because He loved Him.
The entirety of salvation history is built around the restoration of our relationship with God. St. Paul writes repeatedly of our standing as ‘children’ in relationship with God the Father. He repeatedly makes the point that we are co-heirs with Christ. The parable of the Prodigal Son reflects the Father’s heart for each of us. His steadfast love and longing for us to know His love are most important!
Many of us, though, do not live like we believe we are beloved children of a loving Daddy. Rather, we tend to see ourselves as dirty sinners before an angry judge. Because of this faulty belief, we pull away from God, not trusting His goodness and care for us. We live the life of an orphan, alone and rejected. We see ourselves in a cracked mirror of pain, sin, and inadequacy. So, we construct a false self to keep from being found out by the whole world and define an identity based on faults and criticisms rather than love and confidence.
The Only Me That Matters
The “me” the Father sees is the only one that matters because it is the only “me” that is authentic. The other selves are false. When Matthew Kelly talks about becoming the “best version of ourselves”, this is what I understand him to mean. Our false selves are not real. They are reflections and distortions that actually prevent us from being the son or daughter that God has intended.
As you spend time in prayer during this Lenten season, ask God to expose all of the false identities in your life, the protections, the pretensions, and lies. Ask Him also, to reveal your true identity, who you are in Him! Your most authentic self is what God desires for you!