There’s a scene that always makes me grin from the movie Hitch (you know, with Will Smith). Hitch is a dating consultant, coaching guys get the girls they’re crazy about. Here, he’s advising a client who’s purchased a recommended pair of shoes for his date.
Hitch: The shoes are hot. You went to the place I told you, right?
Man : Yeah, but I don’t think they’re really me.
Hitch : “You” is a very fluid concept right now. You bought the shoes. You look great in the shoes. That’s the you I’m talking about.
The idea of the movie pretty much ends up with the idea of being your uncensored self anyway. And in a way—I agree with that “uncensored” concept. I love my quirky friends and all the ways they are them, and not me. I love the poetry fluidly issuing from them and their choices and lives just because they’re made like God. More than ever, especially since landing here in Africa, I marvel at the way I am (weird, klutzy extrovert, zany curls and all) and how it’s pitch-perfect for the song God’s written that is my life.
There are some good things that only I, or only you, can do because of the story God’s written in us. More than ever, I’m comfortable with my self.
But honestly, as I look back at some of the ways I’ve hurt people the most, the ways I’ve bitten it big time—I can’t really say those aren’t me. I once read an author who suggested that “I didn’t mean to say that” is a misnomer, if Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Couple that with Amy Carmichael’s admonition:
If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love. For a cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.
The point? “Myself” is just as often destructive and selfish.
Tim Keller (if you follow this blog, perhaps you agree with my husband’s assessment that Keller is my “homeboy”…? Is this bad, I wonder?) has a lot of valuable thoughts on this for me. He writes that
The sovereign self as a philosophy of life…assumes that we know what we want—that our inner desires are coherent and harmonious…but our deepest desires often contradict one another. A desire for a stellar career will often be in conflict with the desire for a particular relationship. And our feelings constantly shift.*
Keller takes an example:
Imagine an Anglo-Saxon warrior in Britain in AD 800. He has two strong inner impulses and feelings. One is aggression. Living in a shame-and-honor culture with its warrior ethic, he will identify with that feeling. He will say to himself, That’s me! That’s who I am! I will express that. The other feeling he senses is same-sex attraction. To that he will say, That’s not me. I will control and suppress that impulse. Now imagine a young man walking around Manhattan today. He has the same two inward impulses, both equally strong, both difficult to control. What will he say? He will look at the aggression and think, This is not who I want to be…He will look at his sexual desire, however, and conclude, That is who I am.*
We’re all filtering different, competing versions of ourselves, choosing which to embrace and discard. Keller argues, “We receive some interpretive moral grid…[that] helps us decide which feelings are ‘me’ and should be expressed.”
You could say “myself” needs a spiritual “Hitch” of sorts: a transformative Counselor. I’d even go so far as to say we each have one, and who we become depends on which counselor we listen to. Keller emphasizes, “You can’t ultimately say to yourself, I don’t care that everyone I know thinks I’m a monster. I love myself and that is all that matters. That would not convince us of our worth, unless we were mentally unsound.”
I see my need for a Counselor most readily, I think, in what flies out of my mouth. Several years back I read a Christian mom’s blog post who just needed to “vent.” And I thought, what does God think of “venting”? Just because it’s honest—it’s “myself”—is it okay? Even more, is it loving? Is it constructive? I appreciated this insightful, well-considered blog post: “Is Speaking Your Mind a Christian Virtue?”
Because yes, when I listen to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”, I think, yes: Say/what you wanna say/and let the words fall out/honestly/I wanna see you be brave. Be courageous in what you say. Love enough to be truthful; to be bold in the way you express the God-ness in you that is utterly unique in the way you express Him.
And yet—no. Don’t just say it because you think it. Don’t just be the way you are (Keller would argue we can’t, simultaneously). Because we do need identity beyond ourselves; beyond our own authority and liberty. We are slaves to wherever we find our identity.
That, my friends, is the flipside of being myself. Because myself is always serving something. What—or rather Who—will it be?
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*Keller, Timothy. Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. New York City, New York: Viking Publishing (2015). Kindle edition, pp. 108-112. Emphasis added.