Misguided Strength

A Surprising Discovery)

Early in my recovery journey I went into the mountains to attend a three-day spiritual retreat based on the writings of John Eldredge. While there, I discovered a deeper and more consistent connection with God than I had ever known before. I gained an understanding of my past and a roadmap for my future. One of my takeaways was that I needed to start writing. I came back home and started a story blog, later expanding into this spiritual blog and a novel.

My initial motivation for writing was simply to do something creative, something that I had loved in my youth but abandoned somewhere along the way. Much to my surprise, though, the act of writing also became one of my greatest tools in recovery. As I wrote consistently, I felt my desire to lust decrease to a level where I could easily turn it down. I hadn’t started writing to gain sobriety, but that was what had happened even so.

I found this a strange, if welcome, phenomenon, and I started paying close attention to my behavior and feelings. Through my self-examination I believe I found the link between my writing and sobriety. Perhaps this concept will help you on your own journey.

Energy Costs)

One thing I noticed was that my writing took real energy. Sometimes I would try writing when I was tired because I thought it would be a calm and sedentary activity, but it didn’t work. I really struggled to compose anything, and whatever I did get down was of inferior quality. I found that I did my best writing when I was still fresh and full of energy. I might not work up a sweat with my writing, but it does take real mental energy.

And this, I discovered, was the same with lust. Lust takes a story of energy, even when one is only sitting at a computer. It expends your strength and leaves you weaker than you were before. Thus, I found that my act of creativity was burning the same fuel that was used for lust. When I gave my energy to my writing, there simply wasn’t any left over for vice.

This made me consider how one of my earliest triggers for lust was being bored as a teenager. Sitting around with nothing to do had left me with pent up energy that needed some sort of outlet. At first, I had spent it in my writing, but when lust presented itself as an alternative, I moved over to that, leaving my writing behind. I was able to do one of these activities but not both, and if I didn’t want to do one then I simply needed to do the other.

The Strength of Man)

I don’t think that my situation is unique, either. As I consider men as a whole, I can’t help but notice that so many of us have problems with anger and lust, two high-energy vices. This has led me to theorize that God has given men great strength, in order that we might do a great work. But too many of us are not seeking what that great work is. We miss our calling, but we still have this great strength within us and it’s got to come out in some way.

If this is true, then one of the key things for real recovery is for a man to find what his calling is and spend his strength in it. Exactly what that calling would be is something that he must discover personally for himself. For me it was writing, but that won’t be the right calling for everyone.

One thing I am curious about is whether this phenomenon of pent up energy leading to addiction holds true for women as well. The addiction recovery groups I have been part of have been exclusively male, and obviously I am a male myself. I would defer any insights on the addiction patterns of women to someone who is more directly connected there.

But for men, at least, I think there is some real truth here. I am still evaluating this theory, and perhaps my opinions will evolve as to how energy, productivity, and addiction relate to one another, but I am at least certain that it is always good to seek one’s calling and put one’s strength into it. I am certain that doing so can only help one in their sobriety.

If you have desired sobriety for yourself, but been unable to attain it, I would recommend that you take some time to consider what calling God has for you, and how you can pour your heart and soul into fulfilling it. Join a group, work the program, and find your purpose in life. It is a wonderful way to live!

Holding Back the Tide: Part Two

Shifting Impulses)

Yesterday I spoke about how trying to overcome one addiction might simply cause it to shift to another area. Recognizing this tendency is important if we want to live an actually healthy life, not just a life that is unhealthy in a different way.

As I suggested yesterday, slipping into our vices one way or another will always be easier than being healthy. Just as gravity is a constant downward force in the physical world, there is also a constant downward force in the spiritual world, making it easier and simpler for us to fall than to rise. And like gravity, this evil force can pull at us from all directions.

Fortunately, from the times when I have been the most sincere in my recovery, I have discovered some things that can help a great deal. Today I’ll be taking a look at them.

Emptying the Cup)

If I were to ask you to empty all of the air out of a cup, how would you do it? Obviously tipping the cup upside down wouldn’t suffice. You could suck the air out with a straw, but of course other air would flow right back in to take its place. You could make a seal on the top of the cup and then suck out all of the air, creating a vacuum, but this would likely cause the cup to collapse inward and destroy itself.

However, there is one, simple and non-destructive way that the task can be done. Instead of only trying to get the air out, you can simultaneously put something different in. If you pour water into the cup, for example, then the air will naturally be replaced, thus fulfilling the task.

So, too, with getting out a vice. That vice took up a certain amount of your time and energy, and if you just try to scoop it out of your day you have now created an emptiness that will be filled with something else. If you don’t give any thought to what will make use of that time and energy, then it’s probably going to be some other vice because, as I stated above, vice is easier than virtue. If you try to take the vice out and then seal off that freed-up time, not allowing anything to make use of it, you will eventually collapse under the pressures of boredom and frustration.

So, for every evil thing you want to take out of your life, you’re going to need to replace it with an equal measure of good. You need to deliberately start doing something new, something that carries the same expense of time and energy that you were using for the vice.

For me, that led to starting this blog and writing stories. These were very large undertakings, but that was appropriate, because they were replacing a large addiction. It definitely took some work to get my writing going, but once it became a regular practice then going back to the addiction wasn’t even an option, because now it would have to displace the writing that had taken its place and I just couldn’t accept that.

Preserve What You Have)

But if you are going to start a new practice, then consistency is absolutely key. Have you ever found yourself rotating between life-changes that you want to make, shoring up one, just to see the others slip back out of control? I might go on a rotation between things like exercising, getting to bed on time, and saying meaningful prayers. I’ll make a real effort to start exercising, and I’ll make progress there, only to realize that my bedtimes have been slipping later and later into the night. So I’ll focus on when I get to bed, while trying to maintain my exercising, but then I realize I’ve totally forgotten about having a meaningful prayer in the morning. So I focus on that, only to lose my grip on exercise.

In some cases, this is a result of trying to do too much. Yes, a healthy, well-rounded life requires balance, but you only have so many hours in a day and so much of a reserve of willpower. By pouring it all into one area at the start of the day, you may not have enough resolve remaining for all the later tasks. And this cyclical pattern of restarting and abandoning practices only serves to ensure that none of them become a part of regular habit.

So as I’ve already said, one needs to fill their day with deliberate, good things, but they also need to not overfill it. One must put together their core practices with judgment and care, and perhaps their first plan doesn’t work perfectly, and needs to be revised over time.

A Work in Progress)

This is still an area that I am working on myself. I think I have learned and understand some important principles, but the knowledge alone is not enough to make me a perfect practitioner. I am, at least, aware of my shortcomings, and committed to fixing them. I’ll continue to check in from time-to-time, keeping you apprised of my progress. In future series I will also detail more of how I am creating a schedule of healthy tasks to replace the vices in my life, and some of the challenges I have faced while implementing it. For now, though, I’ll move on to another topic for tomorrow. I’ll see you there.

Holding Back the Tide: Part One

Slipping to the Bottom)

There is an engineering problem that is so difficult that it has become an idiom for any impossible task: pushing water uphill. All of us know that the tendency of water is to take the most immediate route downhill. It pauses when it comes to a level surface and pools up, but only until it is able to feel out another path downward.

Many times, living with an addiction can feel much like this problem of trying to keep water at the top of a hill. There are steeper edges on some side of the hill, where your temptations are strongest, and the tendency to fall is constant. Through sincerely working an addiction recovery program, one may start to shore up the steepest sides of the hill, putting up a bulwark to prevent themselves from slipping that way anymore, but what happens next? Well, if you deny water its usual route, it run along the length of the barricade until it finds whatever the next best route downward is. And this is the case with our addictive tendencies, too. Many the addict has momentarily rejoiced at having his addiction under control, only to slowly realize that he is losing control in another area of his life! One addiction is traded for another!

My Victory and Defeat)

This was the case with me when I began recovery work for my addiction to lust. I threw myself into a program with all my heart and will, determined to make any changes whatsoever until I had beaten this unacceptable behavior. And you know what? It really worked! I started accumulating some real sobriety, and it stuck! At last I felt I had solved the riddle that had stumped me for twenty years.

Then, a couple years into sobriety, I started to notice something annoying. When I had first started my campaign against lust I had started to live a more healthy lifestyle overall, resulting in me losing a good deal of weight. Now, though, the numbers on the scale were starting to go the wrong way again.

Okay, I thought, I got a little lazy with my exercise these past couple months. I just have to recommit to my routine of running and calorie counting. Things will get back into place in no time.

Except that they didn’t. Though I recommitted myself to being physically healthy (multiple times!) I just couldn’t make those changes stick. In fact, the more I tried to improve my behavior, the more I seemed to dive off the deep end instead. Now the overeating had my full attention, and I was horrified to recognize in it the same impulsive, stress-coping, habitual nature that had defined my addiction to lust.

But even realizing this fact was not enough to regain power over my appetite. Until recently, I was trying to approach my sedentary life and unhealthy diet as an addendum to the first addiction, an additional area to work on now that the main issue was under control. But this wasn’t an accurate portrayal at all. This wasn’t an addendum to the addiction, it was the full addiction itself. The same water, just pooled to a different part of the hill. I had pinned the dragon down in the cave, but it had snuck out under disguise and was razing the village once more!

You can’t keep the water in place by laying sandbags in one place. If you shore it up where it was running out, it will come spilling out of areas that were only somewhat a problem before. If you shore up those areas, then the water will start coming out of areas that weren’t a problem at all before. You have got to get the sandbags around the entire perimeter of the hill.

A Total Reformation)

Now I admit, I had allowed myself to get complacent in my recovery work. When I first started I was singularly focused on my addiction to lust, but soon learned that nothing short of an entire life restructure was going to suffice. This was why I had been able to make some headway on my physical health, as well as my social and financial health, too.

But after I finished my initial addiction recovery program I did not immediately get myself to a consistent twelve-step group. Just when I started to realize that I needed to, COVID shut down in-person meetings, and I took that as an excuse to still float adrift. By the time all the lockdowns had been lifted, I had stopped thinking about joining a group entirely. And through all of this I had maintained my singular focus on continuing sobriety from lust, but I had given up on the broader view of maintaining an entirely new lifestyle. My physical care was therefore in severe decline, as well as my social connections and my finances.

Half a year ago I started to right the ship. I joined a twelve-step group and have been attending diligently ever since, while also doing recovery homework. I have, as a result, seen the downward trends be halted, and some of them have started to turn back in the right direction. The journey seems to be slower this time than it was before, but maybe that’s just how it feels when you’re in the trenches.

Most importantly, I have become reconvinced that if I am not willing to change my entire life, then my life will not change in any significant way. I am trying to rebuild control and consistency, with the understanding that areas must be worked on. If I get my health and wellbeing back where I want them in just one area first, I won’t make the mistake of thinking that now I’m done and the other sectors of my life can be left to themselves.

Tomorrow I will discuss a little more of how I am trying to make changes in my life on a day-by-day basis. I’ll see you then.

Layers of Man- The Divine

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. - 1 Corinthians 13:12

This above all: to thine own self be true - Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

It might seem impossible that a person could not know their own self, one would think that knowledge would be self-evident to them, but nothing could be further from the truth. I do not know a single person who has not totally lost their genuine self at some point or another. We all stray from our authentic core, and finding our way back isn’t as simple as we might think. Indeed, there are many who never find their way back at all! This a tragedy, because we will never grow into our full potential until we are living from that genuinely authentic place.

Over the past several posts we’ve highlighted the common false identities we find ourselves in: the wounded victim, the shameful addict, and the phony pretender. At different times we might consider any of these roles to be our real self, but none of them can be. Each of these layers only came into existence partway through our lives. They are therefore artificial and external, addendums on top of something else.

And what is that something else? What was the true self that everything else was layered on top of us? What identity we have always had inside of ourselves, right from the beginning of life?

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? - John 10:34

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee - Jeremiah 1:5

The words of scripture provide bold declarations that each and every one of us is a special creation of God, a divine child of the most powerful being in the universe, and an heir to heaven through Christ. The words of scripture tell us that none of us are a bit player or window dressing in the story of the world, but a central character unlike any other. Each of us comes with unique talents and callings, meaning we have both a God-given ability and a God-given purpose.

In short, each one of us is sacred, each one of us is divine, and each one of us is an imprint of God. Many of us have been told this at one point or another, but relatively few of us have been able to actually believe it. Or we might say that we believe it, but when asked to describe who our divine self is we are unable to provide any specific or unique details.

Forgetting who the divine self is the first step to all the trouble that we experience in life. Coming to remember who we are is the first step to restoring all that was lost.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For the body is not one member, but many. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. - 1 Corinthians 12:12, 14, 17, 18

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 18:3

I can tell you that your true identity is defined by wonderful and divine traits…but I cannot tell you exactly what those traits are. We are not all the same image of divinity, but each a part of the whole. It is not for another mortal to define what your identity is. It is a personal and individual pilgrimage that all of us must take for ourselves, to know who we truly are.

I can, at least, give you a starting point to begin your journey from. Remember that all of our false identities were layers heaped upon our original state. Remember that our divine self is not one that we had to earn or fashion, it was present in us from the very beginning. And so, the best place to start looking for the divine self is in our young childhood. What were you like before your innocence had been broken, when happiness came so naturally, and you didn’t ever wonder if you were enough? How did you play and perform before you cared who was watching you? What were the things you could do that brought you joy effortlessly, that made you feel strong and adept? Some may be able to recall these years better than others. Some may need to enlist the help of parents and loved ones who might remember more clearly.

Of course, remembering these things is one thing, but then there is the matter of actually going back to that place. Some may feel that their childlike self has been irreversibly broken, that the path back home is blocked by an impassable chasm.

Whether you have forgotten your child self, or do not know how to find your back to it, do not worry. It can all be brought back to you right where you are at this moment. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As you cultivate your relationship with Christ and search with earnest, old things will be made new. The self that was forgotten or lost will be brought back effortlessly; a gift restored.

***

I’ve shared my façade, my shame, and my wounds, it only seems fair that now I get to share the most divine parts of my soul as well. This isn’t boasting, either, because these are the qualities I did absolutely nothing to obtain. They were given to me as a gift from God. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

From my youngest years I have been naturally cheerful and gregarious. I am most typically happy, and I want to see everyone around me be happy as well. I tend to sense how engaged everyone is with an activity, and when someone is frustrated or losing interest, I know what to change to include them.

I am curious and creative, endlessly fascinated by this world and stimulated by it into imagining new things. I love to write and create stories, to convert life lessons into parables and allegories. And even when it does not lead to creativity, I still find great pleasure just in learning and understanding new things.

Finally, I am also conscientious, having an unbreakable sense of what is right. When it comes to deciding what I should do, I need no more justification or rationalization than simply to feel what is right in my heart and obey it. Along with this, I have recently discovered that I always comes back to my conscience. Sometimes, admittedly, I do become complacent and aloof, trying to glide through life without holding myself to a greater purpose. But these spells are always short-lived. I am constantly pulled back towards conscience, even without any external pressure to do so.

And now, at long last, we have reached the true core of who we are. The part of us that has always been ingrained in us since before our birth. The part that is inseparable from who we are, even when it is temporarily forgotten. The part that it is actually correct for us to identify ourselves by.

We are so often taught that we have to make ourselves be enough, that we have to spend our whole lives striving to becoming who we are supposed to be. What a welcome shock to realize that in reality we don’t need to strive at all. The divine was in us all along, before we had done a single thing to build or earn it. So now, instead of grasping at convoluted philosophies, we can let go of everything but the truth. Instead of looking high and low for God, we can discover Him within us. Instead of working so hard to become His we can realize that we always were.

Now, at last, we are home.

Layers of Man- The Wound

One would hope that a man and woman wouldn’t have any secrets from one another by the time they decide to get married, but this is far from guaranteed. Certainly I was guilty of keeping my wife in the dark from all the deepest parts of me. Previously I mentioned that I kept my addiction to lust concealed from her, but that wasn’t all, I was also hiding my wounds.

It may seem a strange thing, but I was able to tell my wife about my problems with pornography before I could tell her how I got hit as a child, and how I felt ashamed for wincing before each blow. Obviously the addiction was the part of my life that made her more upset, the one that directly hurt her, but it still was the easier thing for me to confess to. I never thought that she would despise me for having suffered abuse, but talking about it brought up areas that were still raw and tender. I couldn’t go there without bringing up all of the attached horrible feelings, so I had always stayed away.

My heart is broken within me; all my bones shake - Jeremiah 23:9

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
And unto Adam he said, cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; - Genesis 3:16-17

All of us have these deep, soul-shaking wounds. As Brené Brown has said, “Every single person has a story that will break your heart. Nobody rides for free.”

If you listen to the stories of two different people, one might have endured a more horrifying pain for a more extended period of time, but both lives will still hold significant trauma. The hardest thing you have ever had to go through, no matter how small it might seem compared to others, is still the hardest thing you have ever had to go through. Simply by virtue of being your greatest pain, it will warp your psyche and become your personal definition of suffering.

Coming to terms with that pain, and developing our relationship with it, is one of the most difficult things we will ever do in life. Virtually all of us will make mistakes in this arena, and we will come up with flawed reactions that end up causing even more pain further down the road.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives - Luke 4:18

And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. - Numbers 21:8

Jesus teaches us that it is good for us to mourn our sorrows, and reassures us with the knowledge that we can be comforted (Matthew 5:4). But there is a clear line between mourning our sorrows and wallowing in them. It is one thing to recognize that you have been a victim, and another to make victimhood your key defining feature.

Over-identifying with our pains and obsessing on what happened to us can lead us to reject the deliverance that is offered, because we start thinking that healing means saying our wounds didn’t matter. Even more perversely, holding on to our damage can be used as a way to justify our own misbehavior afterward. Thus, God is offering us to look to him and live, but we first have to choose to stop remaining a prisoner.

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. - Ether 12:27

Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength" - Jeremiah 17:5

The intended effect of our wounds is that in our weakness we might turn to God, who will heal and make us strong. But that requires stepping fully into our hurt, letting it wash over us, and asking for God to meet us in the middle of all that pain. But what if He doesn’t show up? What if we are consumed?

It is natural to have a fear of facing the pain, and thus many of us will never even try to take that step. We instead try to bury our wound. We act tough, we say “yeah, it happened, but so what?” We claim that our wounds made us stronger, that they made us grow a thicker skin. Or maybe we try to deny that they ever happened, changing the subject anytime someone brings the matter up. In either case, we put on a show that the wounds are unimportant and don’t need to be examined, and that we are well and past them, but nothing could be further from the truth. If we really were past them, there would be no fear of bringing them into the light. A tough wall around the wound only reveals how upset we still are about it.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows - Isaiah 53:4

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. - Revelations 3:20

One way or another, wound tends to lead to building up walls. Sometimes walls are a good thing, a necessary survival mechanism for keeping our oppressor out. Our natural instinct with physical wounds is also to cover them up, to shield them from any outside aggravation. But walls tend not to discriminate. Often they keep everything out, not only the source of the pain. Obviously this becomes a problem if we now stand before the physician and we still can’t expose our wound for healing. We need to let the physician in, even if it will initially cause even more pain, so that we can start becoming better.

Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He is reverential and respectful of our pain, so he does not force his way into our wounds. If we absolutely refuse his healing he will wait. If we never accept his help he will never force it upon us. But he really can help us if we will let him. He has felt it, he has borne it, he has descended into it and risen above it.

If we will not let Christ in, then the wound will fester. It will grow and it will infect. Most addicts don’t initially recognize the connection between their shameful behavior and the unhealed pains for their youth, but through time and exploration the links become clear. One of the greatest sources of trouble in our lives is things that we should have cried about but never did.

***

At the start of this post I mentioned being struck as a child. This pain was most typically the result of not being able to play quietly enough. I was expected to keep entertained by myself, in a way that was contained and non-intrusive. I would try to do that, really I would, but I was a boisterous boy, and I would raise my volume without realizing it, and then I would be hit. A few days ago I mentioned that a key part of my façade is that I try to be a people pleaser, never a bother to anyone. Can you see the connection to that from this wound?

There was also a wound of isolation. I was homeschooled, and any would-be friends were told over-and-over that I wasn’t able to play with them until they stopped asking altogether. As I came into my adolescence I wanted to have meaningful relationships with girls, but I was such an outsider to every social norm that I could never relate to them. Can you see how this wound connects to my addiction for pretend-love-on-demand?

And there were also wounds for being unintelligent. I was pushed to get into college as early as possible, being punished when I did poorly on the admission tests, and being treated as the stupid child for not making it in until I was sixteen. Can you see why I cheated for better grades and made up a façade of being ultra-intelligent?

Our shame is nothing more than a misguided way to cope with our wounds. It tries to alleviate painful shortcomings, but tragically it often does so in a way that only reinforces them. Relying on cheating and lust gave me artificial grades and relationships in the short term, but they further confirmed to me that I wasn’t intelligent or social enough for the real thing.

Our façade is nothing more than an over-compensation for the wound, where we pretend to be all the things that our wounds have told us we are not. In our childhood mind it seemed that we were denied connection and love because of these shortcomings, and so we end up with the false belief that we must project strengths in these areas to be worthy of that connection love.

And so, the wound is a layer deeper than either the shame or the façade, but it is not the true core of who we are either. Defining ourselves based on our wound prevents us from living with truth and joy, same as identifying at the other two levels. There still remains a deeper layer to uncover.

In fact, the reason the wound hurts us so much, is because it is a direct assault at that deeper core. Our wounds put us on such a long and misguided path because they make us forget who we really are. They make us forget our own divine self.

Layers of Man- Shame

And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. - Genesis 3:10

The story of Adam and Eve is strange and fantastic, and at first glance it may seem difficult to relate to. Or at least, it seems difficult until Adam and Eve discover shame. When we hear of them scrambling to hide from God the story suddenly becomes all too familiar. Each of us knows that moment of uncomfortable exposure when we wish we could sink into the floor and disappear from the disapproving glare of another.

Like Adam and Eve, shame is a developed emotion within us. Infants and babies do not exhibit it to any degree but starting around the age of two or three they start to recognize when they have been caught in bad situation and will cry because of it. Though shame is not present at the beginning it is inevitable. Like sexual feelings, the fact that it isn’t present from birth does not mean that it is any less real or certain.

Shame is an essential, if unpleasant, part of learning how to conduct oneself within a society. Every child develops it alongside of their need for friends and social identity. When properly handled, it will guide is into becoming a healthy, well-adjusted individual. But that requires us to embrace its pain, and too often try to find ways to short-circuit it instead. This, of course, means hiding our shame and crafting the façade to cover it, and this means splitting ourselves into two realities.

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. - Romans 7:19

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. - Matthew 26:41

Literature and theater have long been fascinated with the dual nature of man. The Phantom of the Opera shows us a man both hideous and beautiful. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde features a man who is one part kind and one part violent. The Brothers Karamazov is full of characters who believe they are one way but then discover another side to themselves.

Yesterday we discussed the part of our personality that we wear like a mask, a façade that we use to cover the shameful way we feel inside. Many the addict has confessed to a dual life, trying to sustain two completely opposite existences. If the façade is intended to attract the people that we want to like us, then the inner shame tends to be all the qualities that we think would repulse those same people. Addicts express sentiments such as “people think I’m so great, but if they knew who I really was, they’d run for the hills.” Thus, shame represents all the qualities that we think make us unlovable.

And this makes our shame very difficult to expose. It is literally the things that we feel will make people abhor us and reject us, so how are we to willingly unveil those very parts to other people? It feels like an act of suicide!

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! - Isaiah 5:20

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; - 2 Timothy 4:3

Of course, there is not only shame, but shamelessness. There are those whose answer to unpleasant feelings of embarrassment and exposure is to reject those feelings and put gross excess and inappropriate behavior on a pedestal.

Perhaps some feelings of shame are nurtured in us by society, and perhaps some of those things we ought not to feel ashamed about, but just as excessive heat and sharpness should cause pain, excessive indulgence and immorality should cause shame. Those that live shamelessly may think they are living a truer existence because they have thrown away the phony outer layer of the façade, but in reality they have made their shame into their façade. Being accepting of the unacceptable is not authentic, it is just as much a fraud as the person trying to live a dual life.

There are also those who admit to their shameful deeds, and admit that they are shameful, but pitifully conclude that there is nothing they can do about it. They are just no good, and that’s how it is.

Thus, just as how those who self-identify with their façade stunt themselves by living a lie, so too do those who self-identify with their shame. Because while shame is a deeper layer of our psyche, it is still not the true us. Stopping our progression at this level will still prevent us from living with fulness and joy.

***

Yesterday I explained my own façade, the way I try to put on an intelligent and kind face to everyone I meet. But what is beneath that layer? What is my shame? What are the secret behaviors I have always felt rendered me completely unlovable?

Well, as one might expect, they tend to be the opposite of the façade that I try project. They are my lack of intelligence and my selfishness.

For lack of intelligence, I have always felt that I am lagging behind the curve. I have always been terrified to have my knowledge tested, and for the first several years of college I cheated in every test that I could. Eventually I was caught and brought before a school counselor. I thought I was going to try to lie my way out of it right up until the moment I opened my mouth. Admitting to my stupidity and immoral behavior would be social suicide after all. But something came over me in that moment, and I peeled back the façade and showed my shame instead. I admitted that the accusation was completely true, that I had cheated, and that I had been doing so for quite some while. And, most unexpectedly, I actually felt relieved to have finally been discovered.

Fortunately for me, the school showed mercy. I did not die socially, I was not expelled, and from that moment on I never cheated on a test again. But the temptation to do so was always there. I still dreaded having my knowledge measured, because I was never able to shake the feeling that my intelligence on its own would never be enough. But a change had finally occurred, where I was willing to accept failure and embarrassment rather than pretend to something false.

For selfishness, I have my addictions. Compulsive behaviors that are based around getting what instantaneous pleasure I want, with no regard for whoever is harmed as a result. My addictions are primarily in the form of lust, overeating, and excessive media use.

Of these three, lust is certainly the one that has brought me the most shame. I have felt absolutely disgusted with myself for how I would use women for my own gratification, viewing pornography and typing away in chat rooms, all the while pretending to be a loving husband and an attentive father. I told myself for years that I could not break the façade, that I could not ruin the image of a shining knight that my wife and son had for me. As with the cheating in school, I really believed that I could never tell the truth, and unlike with school, I knew how to cover my tracks well enough that I would likely never be caught. I lived the lie and I never let the mask slip.

Until, one day, I did. One day I had had enough, and I wrote my wife a letter and left it on our doorstep. In the next two days I met with my ecclesiastical leader and scheduled an appointment with an addiction recovery program. Since that moment, my secret shame has been out in the open, as I have shared all my worst moments with therapy and twelve step groups. Much to my surprise, revealing my shame has not made me fundamentally unlovable. In fact, it has drawn people closer.

However, accepting that we have this layer of shame and bringing it to the light is still not the end of the road. There is a reason why we do the things that we are ashamed of, and that reason emanates from another layer further down. Tomorrow we will approach the layer of our wounds, and we will do so gingerly and carefully. We will come to understand their pain and how we mishandle them with shame and façade.

Layers of Man- The Façade

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. - Genesis 3:7

You will never know most of the people you meet.

A strange sentiment perhaps, seemingly paradoxical, but it is completely true. Put another way, for most of the people in your life, you will never interact with the actual them, only with their mask. You will only ever know the surface-level, carefully-doctored, phony personality that they are making a conscious effort to project.

Like Adam and Eve, we make aprons. We hide who we really are behind a layer of fashion. A fashion that we hope will make us attractive to the people that we want to like us.

And this phenomenon hasn’t gone unnoticed. We so often complain about how fake everybody seems and how we crave relationships that are more real. But at the same time, we tend to downplay how much we’re playing the exact same game ourselves. Even criticizing the phoniness in others can itself be a social fashion.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes - Proverbs 21:2

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? - Matthew 7:4

The reason why so many of us don’t realize how much we are projecting our own façade is because we are the ones being fooled the most by it! We pretend to be a particular way for so long that we actually start to believe that is who we really are!

And then we must defend whatever principles and ideologies our delusion is based upon, as any challenge to them might tumble down our entire house of cards. This is what divides our culture into isolated echo chambers, where we surround ourselves with people that show the same façade we are trying to project, we become saturated with their dogma, and then we attack anyone whose façade is at odds with our own. We’ll pick apart all their flaws while ignoring our own, and the whole time we’ll believe that we are standing for what is right and virtuous. In reality, it is only self-preservation.

This cycle, unfortunately, can continue forever. All of our façades are fundamentally flawed in one way or another, and thus each is deserving of criticism, and thus there will always be an easy avenue to tear one another down. The only way to break out of this cycle is to finally admit that our façade is a façade and that it is beneath us.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. - 1 Corinthians 1:25

And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. - Luke 21:1-2

One of the greatest curses that could ever be wished upon someone is that their façade would be good enough and consistent enough for them to never have to challenge it. Continuing to identify with this superficial layer, believing that this who they really and truly are, will stunt any person’s growth. Most of us will never call it quits on our game of pretend until it completely and utterly fails us, so as long as we’re able to be somewhat happy, somewhat secure, and somewhat wealthy we will never have a reason to disrupt the status quo.

And what a terrible fate that would be, for it would forever keep us living in the lower echelons of existence. The wisest and strongest we could ever make ourselves is still superseded by the most simple and weak of God. The uneducated and frail woman who gave her two mites was living a more complete and joyful life than the learned and powerful rulers who made a great show of giving their riches. Authentic living, even of the humblest variety, trumps inauthentic living, even at its most extravagant.

Many the addict has learned to be grateful for their life-destroying vice, because hitting rock bottom was what finally brought them to drop their façade and start living with actual authenticity. To have not been destroyed might have meant to never truly live.

***

But what about for me personally? What has been my go-to façade, what are its strengths and weaknesses, and why wasn’t it enough to keep me content in life? The way I try to come across is extremely intelligent and incredibly nice. Let’s look at each of these qualities one at a time.

Intelligent)

I want people to know that I know things, and I will absolutely pretend to know more than I really do. I will also carefully avoid conversations that might reveal my ignorance in a particular area.

I work in a highly technical field, and when other people start throwing out jargon that I don’t know, I feel very uncomfortable about my ignorance. I try to glean enough context to give an intelligible response, all the while terrified of being found out as a fraud. My great hope is that I will be able to continue the illusion of knowing everything that I need to know and having many wise insights to offer.

Nice)

But I don’t want to be seen as too full of myself. I want to be recognized as smart, but not conceited. So, I also make myself into quite the people-pleaser. I defer on my own preferences and opinions, give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and never say a bad word about anyone.

I’m also very careful to do all of the things I’m supposed to be doing as a good person. I go to church, I pay my taxes, and I am never to be seen in a disreputable establishment! I want people to know that they can depend on me to be just the sort of guy that they think I am. The sort who quietly handles all his own struggles without being a bother to anyone.

Now obviously, not all of these qualities are bad things, and not all of them are totally fake. In some areas of life, I really am intelligent, and I really can be very kind. But I’ve taken these natural qualities and I’ve overinflated them. At some points I’ve embellished them with outright lies.

Some of these behaviors are outright unhealthy, such as always deferring my own preferences. Some of them are unhealthy simply because they are coming from an inauthentic place, such as when I listen closely to what someone else is saying and give a meaningful response, but only so they will know what a great guy I really am.

But if I genuinely do have some good qualities, why do I feel the need to exaggerate and pretend? We’ll get more into that as we continue this study, but the short answer is because my basic goodness was wounded at some point, and I concluded that it wasn’t good enough. I was smart, but not smart enough. I was thoughtful, but I wasn’t thoughtful enough. Someone told me I had failed to measure up and I had to do better.

Not only that, but hidden away, beneath my phony exterior, my vices were rapidly growing. The façade had to stretch to cover all the parts I didn’t want to be seen. The more secret shame I had, the more I had to shore it up with pretended goodness on the other side.

And this, of course, brings us to the next layer of the human soul: shame. When a person makes a decision to start living an authentic life, the first thing they usually bring to light is the naked shame that hides beneath the fancy costume. Tomorrow we will uncover this layer, but we will do so with kindness and understanding.

Layers of Man- Overview

But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. - 1 Kings 16:7

In his excellent series Restoring the Shack, author William Paul Young discusses the different layers that there are to a person. He points out that what most of us present to the world is nothing more than a façade, a carefully-constructed window dressing that reveals how we want to be seen, but which is far removed from who we actually are inside. He explains that behind the façade there is an inner layer which may appear more like a broken-down shack. And while we may feel that it would kill us to reveal that part to another person, we will never have any true connection until we do.

John Eldredge also speaks of this idea of layers in his book Wild at Heart. He illustrated how we create a “poser,” a carefully crafted image, whose primary function to is protect an inner wound. The poser prevents anyone from getting to a place that is vulnerable and tender, but as William Paul Young suggests, this again means never having any true connection.

Both Young and Eldredge identify a fake, outer layer, and also a sensitive inner one. Personally I feel that they identify two different inner layers, though. There is the shame, that William Paul Young discusses at great length, and there is the wound, which Eldredge focuses on. But these inner layers cannot represent the entire self either. There must still be a deeper layer, the one that feels hurt by the wound, the one that feels ashamed of the misbehavior.

As I have examined my own life I have found this notion of layers to be absolutely true, and I have recognized the hierarchy that they organize themselves into. Within my life, and I suspect many others, there is

  1. Façade
  2. Shame
  3. Wound
  4. Divine

This sequence of these layers is not random, either. I have presented them in order of intimacy and truth. The deeper you go into the layers, the more secret and sacred of a space you come into.

Over the next few days I will explore each of these layers in turn, and what each specifically represents for me. I will consider how these layers are formed, how they help or hurt us, and how we return to our core self after we recognize the falsehoods of the others. If these notions are new to you they may bring up some difficult realizations. I can understand anyone that doesn’t want to see these intimate parts uncovered, I certainly did not want to go to these places for the first few decades of my life. And for good reason.

But I can also attest that one will never be fully alive until this work is gone through. This is the most important work any of us can do for ourselves, the work of discovering our true, divine heart. Make no mistake, there are dragons ahead, but dragons must be faced!

Next Steps

I have just finished my study of Genesis. Over the past week, as I’ve been approaching this milestone, I’ve been thinking about what it is I want to do next. I could move on to a study of Exodus, or I could go back to doing topical studies, or I could try something else.

And as I’ve thought about it, I feel that I would like to be more open about my personal journey. I’d like to share about the spiritual journey I’ve taken thus far in life, and where I am trying to go with it now. I want to talk about the principles and practices that mean a great deal to me, and which ones I am still working on. I want to discuss how I have felt my soul saved by Christ, and how I have tried to become a genuine disciple as a result.

In order to explain my journey, it will be necessary to explain more of who I am and who I was before Christ rescued me. That means shining a light on private areas of my life, such as my wounds and shame. I don’t intend to go into excessive detail about every thing that I regret in life, but I do think it is important to admit at least their general nature, in order to provide hope to others who can relate to those experiences.

As such, these next episodes are going to put me in quite a vulnerable position, and I hope that you will receive what I share with compassion. I’m going to first lay out a little groundwork, though. Tomorrow I will give the roadmap for what the next several days will cover. Thank you, and I’ll see you then.