Pt. 2

Unfortunately, today it is fashionable to play the game of creating false impressions.  Sidney Jourard calls this the “poker game of society” in which we bluff one another with our multitude of masks.  This in turn creates a psychological curtain between people.  We enclose ourselves in protective armor and we learn to play the game of deception well.  The fear of letting oneself be known to others and perhaps experiencing their rejection, criticism, or even acceptance, impinges upon man’s honesty to himself, to others, and to God.

Adam started us down this road of deception and because of that we all have the potential to experience this false life in some manner. We thus portrayed this inception of dishonesty:

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together to and made themselves aprons.  And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” –Genesis 3:7-10 RSV

God did not create us to be this way – man made the choice.  This alone I have found, that God, when He made mad, made him straightforward, but man invents endless subtleties of his own (Ecclesiastes 7:29, NEB)

As one man put it, “I’m afraid to tell you who I am because if I tell you who I am, you might not like who I am and that’s all I’ve got!’  John Powell elaborates in Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?

None of us want to be a fraud or to live a lie; none of us want to be a sham, a phony, but the fear that we experience and the risks that honest self-communication would involve seem so intense to us that seeking refuge in our roles, masks and games becomes an almost natural reflex action.

·  Inner scars, pains, and fears of the past block out sharing ourselves with others.  From infancy on, a person learns to erect a pleasing or false veneer in order to protect and in many cases to advance himself or herself in their society.  “We conceal our person behind a protective barrier,” says Paul Tournier in The Meaning of Persons.  “We let it be seen only through the bars.  We display certain of its aspect, others we carefully hide.”

·        Pretense and the pattern of deception have been so refined and perfected by some people that not only have they deceived others, but they have tended to lose touch with their real selves!  How unfortunate that is!  And it leads us into insidious pastime of trying (through falsehood) to get others to like us. But it doesn’t work!  As we see in Normal Neurosis:  The Adjusted American  by Snell and Gail Putney:

The person who is caught up in the quest for indirect self-acceptance is more concerned with making a favorable impression on others than with seeing an honest reflection of himself.  He attempts to manipulate the way he appears to others.  Consequently he cannot credit any favorable image they may reflect, for he has good reason to think that what he sees is only his most flattering angle.

Moreover, he is likely to become preoccupied with the limitations he is struggling to conceal from others, with the result that these “defects” loom disproportionately large in his self-image.  The person who seeks indirect self-acceptance this begins by trying to manipulate the image he presents to others and ends up by having a distorted self-image, in which his defects are magnified.

·        All of us are dependent upon our relationships with other individuals. No one exists as a completely separate personality, alone and cut off from others. Our personalities are formed in relation to those about us, a process which continues throughout life. Isolating oneself from others brings stagnation and ultimately regression and retreat.  It just reinforces a poor self-image.

·        People with a low self-image fear that they are failures.  In order to prove they are not they often shy away from competitive ventures. Cynicism often sets in, as is pointed out by Arthur DeJong in Making It to Adulthood.

To prove his worth to others and to himself, the person with low self-esteem often takes on the image of “worker” or “helper” or both.  The worker goes at his work feverishly and with an eye to perfection.  The helper feels worthwhile when he has helped someone and when that person responds affirmatively. Since he is never convinced of his worth, the person repeats this pattern endlessly. Indeed, it becomes a need and therefore a personality trait.

Because the person with low self-esteem wishes to be accepted by others, both to prove his worth and to gain interpersonal relationships, he is often guided more by what he thinks is right.  He is not his own man, but rather a victim of his feelings and needs.  Down deep he hates himself because of this lack of integrity.  This he is caught in a vicious circle.

·        How do you feel about yourself?  What guidelines can we use to develop a positive self-image?  Must we look at ourselves through our own eyes with our biases and distortions, or is there another way?  The Apostle Paul writes:

For by the grace (unmerited favor of God) given to me I warn every one among you not to estimate and think of himself more highly than he ought – not to have an exaggerated opinion of his own importance; but to rate his ability with sober judgment, each according to the degree of faith apportioned by God to him. – Romans 12:3 AMPLIFIED

Paul suggests that we use certain guidelines to evaluate ourselves.  He says we are not to think too highly of ourselves.  By implication it would be just as bad to think too lowly of ourselves for that is a negative form of pride. He suggests that we think realistically.

Paul had a realistic view of himself.  He often saw himself as a great sinner. But he never described himself as a great sinner without at the same time referring to the grace of God which forgave his sins, accepted him, and enabled him to be useful for God’s service.  Paul never simply sat down and brooded about his sins. Whenever he thought about his sins, he thought about the grace of God.  In 1 Timothy 1:15 KJV, for example, Paul calls himself the chief of sinners, but in the same context he describes salvation:  … faithful [is the] saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.  In Ephesians 3:8 KJV he contrasts his feeing of unworthiness with the privileges position to which God has called him:  Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.  Paul also expresses his deep feelings about the fact that he was once a persecutor.  Yet he maintains a positive self-image because of what the grace of God has done for him and is still doing through him.

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet [fit] to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am:  and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not found in vain:  but I labored more abundantly than they all; yea not I, but the grace of God which was with me. – 2 Corinthians 15:9 KJV

Though Paul can look back to aspects of his former life of which he is now ashamed, he does not continue to brood or dwell on these things; he has learned to forget the things which are behind (see Philippians 3:13). Despite his deep sense of sin, Paul had a positive self-image.  He saw himself as someone upon whom God had given grace, whom God had enabled and was still enabling to live a fruitful life for Christ, and whom God so continued to fill with His Spirit that his life could be an example to others.

Paul was aware of the trap of evaluating ourselves in terms of the estimation of others.  He suggests that we spend less time evaluating ourselves and other people and leave this to God!

Well here it is.  God wants you to just be honest with him about who you are no matter how pretty or ugly it may be.  THEN and only then can God begin the process of making you into what He wants you to be.  Truth may hurt at time, but the faith that is added onto the end of it is the part that’s meant to encourage us.  Will you face and accept truth so that God may help you change it?  The choice is yours.

In Christ, I Rise,

La’Shawn C. Bragman-Peterson