In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, author Richard Rohr builds on psychologist Carl Jung’s description of a process by which we let go of who we think we are supposed to be, and start to more accurately express our “true” selves. Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, adds a spiritual perspective to Jung’s framework of first half and second half life experiences, concluding that “Your True Self is who you objectively are from the beginning, in the mind and heart of God.” This is, of course, hardly a view unique to the Christian faith. As Rohr points out, Zen Buddhists have since long ago referred to the true self as “the face you had before you were born.”
Rohr’s “second half” spiritual discovery of a true self requires what he calls a “downward process” brought on by a divinely placed “stumbling stone,” resulting in the paradoxically necessary process of self-surrender. Rohr is not alone in his application of scripture, church history, and experience to reach the conclusion that we often stand in our own way when it comes to experiencing all that God has in store for us. “Sooner or later a servant of God discovers that he himself is the greatest frustration of his work.” So wrote Watchman Nee (1903-1972), an early 20th century church leader and teacher who died in a Chinese prison after 20 years of incarceration for his faith. Similar to Rohr’s “downward process,” Nee explains in The Breaking of the Outer Man and the Release of the Spirit that our lives inevitably require the breaking of an outer veneer to release the “true” spirit inside each of us. Author John Eldredge, in his popular book Wild At Heart, similarly writes that “In order to take a man into his wound, so that he can heal it and begin the release of the true self, God will thwart the false self. He will take away all that you’ve leaned upon to bring you life.” As Eldredge explains, the process of taking off a mask worn for a lifetime can sometimes be a painful one.
So, what’s the point - is this just about building a better “you”? It can end there - but it doesn’t have to. There’s so much more to it than that. Unlike typical “self-help” practices, which make no apologies for perfecting and improving as a means to itself, what Christian authors like Nee, Rohr, and Eldridge all describe in the “breaking” process is not merely a journey of self-improvement for the purpose of “bettering ourselves.” While certainly greater peace and contentment may come from a better understanding of our true nature, Nee explains that by virtue of this journey God “wants to prepare a way to bring His blessing to the world through those who belong to Him.” In other words, it turns out that in finding ourselves (and hence our unique purpose) we will eventually realize, as Rick Warren writes in the first line of The Purpose Driven Life, that “It’s not about you.” Then, who is it about? Answering that question may first require you to reimagine your concept, or description, of God.
Is it possible that in the process of helping you to discover your own “true self,” God will also be revealing something to you something about who He is? In addition to becoming a greater blessing to the world, as Nee describes, is it possible that God also wants you to be a blessing to Him? What if it’s just as important to consider not only what God wants for you, but why he wants that, for you? We can often think of prayer (and even faith practices more broadly) as ways by which we discover God’s will for our lives, get answers, obtain guidance, make divine requests, intercede for others, and try to learn more about our purpose. All good things! But what if God might also have something to relate to each of us individually - about himself? What if, by breaking our outer man, we might also learn more not just about our own heart, but also about God’s heart for each of us? If we truly believe that God is both immanent and transcendent (totally unfathomable and yet intensely knowable), then why wouldn’t He be constantly working to reveal Himself to you?
My friend Will Blackman joined me in this episode for a deep discussion about not just the process of breaking, but also more importantly God’s desire to use that process to reveal more about Himself. My hope is that this will be the first of several more episodes where we unpack in more detail what it looks like to “get out of our own way” in how we relate to God, and continually seek His purpose for our lives.
Will and I discussed:
Why God reminds the Israelites (and us) in Deuteronomy about the importance of “remembering” what He has done
The difference between having knowledge about God, and learning more from Him about Himself
What does it mean that Jesus’ sheep hear his voice, and he knows them? (John 10:27)
The difference between our view of sin, and God’s view of sin
How the seeking of God’s heart as a spiritual practice now prepares us for our own “trials” ahead
Common grace versus specific grace (the importance of both)
What does it look like to hear from God? (two questions to consider asking God in prayer)
I hope you enjoy our conversation about the purpose in the process of breaking - stay tuned for more on this topic!