50 Shades of Ego

shadesWhen my oldest child was born my mother would look at her and say crazy stuff like, “Babies are just pure selfishness! They’re so sinful; all they can think of is themselves.” It was this mindset, based on her ‘Christian values’, that formed the standard in which she raised me. I know that’s convoluted, and I in no way wish to place blame, but it gives some context for how my formative Christian experience shaped and affirmed the false self in me.

To begin with, my egoic specialness was identified with being sinful and inherently bad. I’m almost certain my mother thought I was the spawn of Satan. As I grew older, my ego discovered that it could also be special in the church if, instead of being pure selfishness, it became outstanding Christian goodness. I became a youth leader and eventually a pastor’s wife. In the Pentecostal circles I inhabited as a young person there could be no higher spiritual achievement for a young woman than to be married to a pastor. I had arrived.

And thus, my false self’s passive need to be special symbiotically joined the church in myriad ways. Oh, the (mis)adventures we’ve had.

Today, I find myself re-entering the context of church after a sabbatical. In my time away I explored other mystical paths and integrated new perspectives into the growing expansiveness of my spiritual repertoire. I’ve spent time in communities with no defined doctrines or sacred agendas, just simple unconditional love and acceptance.

I’d somehow drawn the conclusion that upon re-entering the church I would easily assimilate my fresh understanding into church life and something new and wonderful would just kind of instantly manifest for me.

I could not have been more wrong.

As a matter of fact, had I known before hand what I was getting myself into, I don’t think I would’ve agreed to Jesus’ invitation back into ‘the fold’! That’s not to say I was tricked; I’ve been a willing participant with the freedom to leave at any time.

My biggest challenge has been that my false self or ego is still trying to fill its old role of being special within the context of church. When I attend on Sunday morning or join up with a midweek small group, ego arises in me, nuanced with various shades of judgment, anger, frustration and self-righteousness. Ugly, ugly, ugly. It’s as if a mischievous toddler just walked up to my beautifully crafted masterpiece of ‘enlightened self’ and scribbled all over it with a crayon.

Could it be that the Divine is gently proposing I rework my sanctimonious showpiece, starting with a thick coat of primer? Seems so.

Jesus, give me the courage to walk in the humility you so graciously demonstrated, to be open to the reshaping of your Spirit in me, not clinging to what I’ve created myself to be, but in the openness and vulnerability of my True Self in you. Let me be a freshly primed canvass. This time, you be the paintbrush.

“Love does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Nuance

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Hidden Toxicity: Forgiving the Institutions That Hurt Us

treeWhen you think of healing and forgiveness do you think of it primarily in the context of relationships? I do. Psycho-therapeutic approaches, holistic living philosophies and the Scriptures all tend to focus on finding wholeness through the repair work we do with others. I would agree; we heal in relationship. However, I’ve recently realised that I’ve overlooked an entire area of healing in my life. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Having grown up in a severely abusive home and community, I’ve attributed my woundedness to the gross error and negligence of my parents, teachers and church leadership. While it’s true that people were the ones doing the hurting, there was something much bigger that created the framework in which all that pain occurred. It was what I perceived as the religious institution of the Christian church. In objectifying the church, I’ve not recognized how insidiously my unconscious bitterness, resentment and blame has been festering toward it and how this is affecting my life.

In my young experience, the Bible was used to justify inhumane actions. Attending church made you good even if your behaviour spoke differently. Religion gave adults the authority to destroy the souls of children and rob them of their creativity, passion and innocence.

So while I feel like I’ve done quite well with healing myself in the context of relationship, I’ve finally been able to see how my toxic perspective on the church has been holding me back from finding true freedom in other areas of my life. The task of forgiving the errors of a ‘thing’ rather than a person seems daunting to me. It’s not as if those structures can reciprocate my desire for reconciliation. Or can they? Or do they need to?

Social structures are the products of the minds that create them, nurture them and sustain them. And behind those minds are people. I don’t know them. I don’t know their intentions. Much of Christianity, as we know it today, was formed around decisions made 1600 years ago. Yes, I’ve explored and questioned the events that led to its origins. None of that understanding does me any good anyway. Understanding is not required for forgiveness to take place.

Forgiveness is something I do for myself. Reciprocity is not a co-requisite. Forgiveness is a shift in my state of mind from perceptions that held me back to perceptions that set me free. A frequent side-effect is that the forgivee is also set free, but this isn’t a requirement.

People make errors, individually and collectively, for reasons that we cannot truly comprehend. They play their roles and we play ours. For me the question cannot be ‘why’, but rather, ‘what now?’

‘What now?’ involves the gentle guidance of Holy Spirit and the application of Jesus’ unconditional love. Can I forgive that deeply and love that big? Yes. The only question that remains is will I?

Yes.

 

 

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