The Search for the Real Self

Mark Galli, editor at Christianity Today tapped on my soul window with this article.


Looking for Real Authenticity

“This above all: to thine own self be true.” Thus says Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It has become our culture’s “life verse,” though we usually talk about it in terms of authenticity.

Authenticity is one of the most valued characteristics in our society. As children we are taught to just “be ourselves”, and as adults we can choose from a large number of self-help books that will tell us how important it is to get in touch with our “real self”. It’s taken as a given by everyone that authenticity is a real thing and that it is worth cultivating.

When comes to figuring out our “real self,” things get complicated, as research shows:

While people spend so much time searching for their real self, the stark reality is that all of the aspects of your mind are part of you. It’s virtually impossible to think of any intentional behavior that does not reflect some genuine part of your psychological make-up, whether it’s your dispositions, attitudes, values, or goals.

One of the saddest consequences of our culture’s search for the holy grail of the authentic self is how it destroys families, among other relationships. Note this piece on CNN, “I Was Married with 2 Kids when I realized I’m gay.”

This is one reason our culture is, as this article in City Journal puts it: “Alone: The decline of the family has unleashed an epidemic of loneliness.”

It is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian narrative that only the one who gives up the self will be able to find it (Mark 8:35).

Among my life verses is Mark 8:34-37.

“Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, you, the real you?” (Jesus)

I’m into self-help—my self needs all the help it can get! I think Jesus approves of self-understanding and improvement. Jesus is not into self-diminishment. He is the One who claims to give “abundant life.” The limit is when personal pursuit of “authentic” self is when it hurts, diminishes or affects others’ authenticity.

Self-authenticity (as defined by the world standards) does not or cannot be allowed to supersede prior covenants or promises. Authenticity means others, to whom we have made promises or have covenant relationships, are themselves expanded by our faithfulness.

A Texas friend told me his father abandoned the family to “find himself” and pursue his self-search. My friend was 12 when he was abandoned. I know the family’s pastor. My friend’s siblings, and the next two generations were deeply affected by that abandonment. The covenants we make with other people affect the “self” we seek.

Complex! That’s the right word. “Saving your true self,” is the path to genuine authenticity and it is the benefit of making the right choices. I’m denying many of my selves that do not biblically define me or benefit me.

©2019 D. Dean Benton,       Writer, Wonderer, Ponderer

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