As I prepare to study for the Doctor of Ministry degree through Asbury Seminary's Beeson Pastor Program beginning this July, I have many assigned text books to read before arriving. For the Spirituality of Leadership class, I have been asked to read one of the works of Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk who wrote extensively in the mid Twentieth Century. I am by no means a Merton expert, but I'll attempt to summarize what I know of one of his major themes.
Merton differentiates between the false self and the true self. He suggests that too many of us live with masks on that cause us to live in the bondage of the false self. The false self is always busy, always buying, always bullying, always focused on the exterior non-realities of life. The true self is realized when we go beyond the exterior and discover the interior of who we are in so far as we are able to experience through contemplative reflection the Ultimate Reality who is God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let's be honest, too many of us Christ-followers are living lives focused more on developing the exterior, mask-wearing false self than the interior, mask-shedding true self. I know this because many of my Christian friends (as well as yours truly) expend more energy on false self development than true self development. For example, many of us, like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, put forth elaborate spiritual displays when people are looking on. We pray eloquent public prayers, quote Scriptural admonitions to others, and sing with passion while gathered with the sacred Sunday assembly. Yet, when no one but God is looking on we fall asleep during prayer, neglect bible reading for days on end, and fail to deeply connect with the God of the universe because we're not willing to invest the needed time and energy for such connection.
Some sobering questions begin to surface for our reflection that help us discern whether we're developing the false self or the true self: If I continue to live as I have lived these past three days, will I feed the false self or the true self God has made me to be? Am I more concerned with what I do outwardly or who I am inwardly? Do I constantly need the approval and affirmation of others or is my contentment found through pleasing God alone?