Before working through this Guide, make sure that everyone has caught up through the teaching on May 15, 2022.
Begin your gathering by taking communion together, whether as a full meal or some version of the bread and the cup that proceeds the meal. If you don’t already have a Communion liturgy, pray these words from Paul to the church in Ephesus:
I pray that out of his glorious riches God may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3v16-19)
Read This Overview Aloud Together
Each human being is totally unique from every other person who has or will ever exist. Think about that for a second. You are wholly different from every other person, whether you’ve met them or not – no repeats, no copies, no mistakes. How can this be? It is because everyone was made in the image of a God who is infinite, so we each reflect different combinations of his infinite nature.
The goal of spiritual formation is not to become clones of each other, but to become our true selves by becoming like Jesus for the sake of others. The best, truest gift you have to offer to the world around you is your own transforming and transformed self. But becoming who we were created to be is easier said than done. It requires that we know God and that we know ourselves. On this journey, we quickly come to find an interconnectedness between these knowings. Knowledge of God produces knowledge of self, since we were made in his image. And true knowledge of self reveals to us the intricacies of God’s beauty and design.
The only way to discover our true self is to do so according to God: his Spirit, his Scriptures, and his community. He knows how we were wired and his truth is a map to unlocking all of the unique complexities that make us us. This is why we’ve been practicing hearing God’s voice; he alone is the way to unravel our true selves.
But crouching around the corner is what the church has for centuries called the false self, the glittering image that we use to hide our brokenness. The false self is the part of us that overcompensates, deflects, and distracts others (and sometimes even ourselves) from the parts of us we’d rather others not see. It is not only the part of us that sins, but also the part of us that tries to hide our sin and shame, to cover it. While the false self attempts to produce its own covering, the true self allows God to be its covering. To really know ourselves, then – our real, true self – requires more than just a Christian personality test or spiritual gifts inventory. It requires self knowledge without deception, without the self-protecting shiny exterior that we use to hide the parts of us we don’t like or feel ashamed of.
This week, we want to begin the journey of recognizing the false self and welcoming it into the light of Jesus’ warm embrace.
Discuss The Following Questions
- Why is it important to learn to recognize the false self? What happens if we don’t?
- What are some examples of what someone’s false self could look like? How have you seen people compensate for sin, shame, and insecurity?
- What is your experience of the fallout of having lived in your false self? (e.g. someone embraced something about you that wasn’t actually true, you had to go back and tell others the truth about what you were covering up, you didn’t get the acceptance you were hoping for, etc.)
Do This Practice Tonight
A big piece of our journey with the false self that we have not yet discussed is what we do with it when we recognize it. Contrary to what you may think, will power, determination, and rigidity won’t make it go away. In fact, those may be part of what gives the false self its power. Instead, we have to face it with an incredible amount of compassion, understanding that it is trying to keep us safe. As one spiritual formation practitioner even suggests, we have to befriend it, to understand what it’s trying to say to us, what it wants to reveal to us, but to still be honest about the fact that it is trying to deceive.
Each one of us will struggle to find the balance between the brutal honesty and the radical self-compassion required in the hard work of telling the truth about ourselves. We will need the Spirit’s help for both.
For tonight’s practice, we will split into same-gendered small groups and explore some questions together around our own journey with the false self. Remember that the journey with the false self will be lifelong, so don’t try to solve it tonight. Press as much into the questions as you feel comfortable to, only sharing what you feel ready to.
Once you have split into small groups, work through the following prompts and questions:
1. Embarrassment: When we begin to feel embarrassment, shame, or humiliation, we can be sure that the false self is going to try and rear its head. Take a moment to think back to the last time you were embarrassed about something, whether at work, with friends, at home, or somewhere else.
- What were you feeling in that moment?
- How did you respond? Did you overcompensate in some way or try to become invisible?
- What can that experience teach you about your own false self?
2. Motives: Proverbs 21v2 reminds us that “a person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.” If we are paying attention, the Spirit will often reveal to us when we are not doing something out of good intentions. While, in reality, there is no such thing as a pure motive (we’re all a mixture of motives), one way to recognize the false self is by reflecting on our motives. Invite the Spirit to bring to mind a situation in the last week where your motives may not have been as good as you assumed.
- Take a minute to briefly describe the situation.
- What did you think your motives were? What did the Holy Spirit begin to reveal about your motives?
- Knowing what you know now, what would it have looked like to be your true self in that situation?
Close up by thanking each person for sharing and praying for each other. Thank the Spirit that he reveals our false self so that we can hear him reveal our true self.
Read The Practice for the Week Ahead
One way to live into our true self is to become aware of where and how our false self presents. This week, we want to practice reviewing interactions and to work to name the motive behind it. We must have the courage to look through our false self and face our shame and failure if we are going to hear Jesus reveal our belovedness, our true self. Our goal is not just to know ourselves, but to know ourselves without deception and to invite the Spirit to close the gap between how we interact with the world and our true self.
Very simply, take some time near the end of this week to review three experiences you had this week with three different people (e.g. a family member, a co-worker, a friend, your boss, etc.) in the presence of the Holy Spirit. As you call to mind each situation, reflect on the following questions. Remember, journaling could be helpful in this process because we write slower than we think; so journaling allows us to pay attention to more than we can by just thinking through it.
- Where in this interaction did you hide yourself in the name of self-preservation? What are the signs that you were doing that? (e.g. embarrassment, feeling caught, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, etc.)
- What were you hiding and how did you hide it?
- Our surface motive is usually to cover or hide yourself in order to avoid conflict or attention, to hide a mistake, to be seen as good/right, etc. But there are deeper, purer motives and aches in us when we do this. Sometimes we are wanting to belong, to fit in, to be loved, or to be accepted. What was your deeper motive in hiding?
- Looking back on this interaction, how would things have played out if you stayed in your true self?
Spend some time in prayer, acknowledging where you attempted to cover yourself. And then invite the Holy Spirit to meet that deeper ache in you and ask him to be your covering.
End in Prayer
Close your time together by asking for God to continue speaking your belovedness or true self over each of you. Invite him to reveal how your false self is getting in the way and ask him to gently guide you deeper into your true self.