In his journey as a pastor, teacher, and spiritual director, Daniel Bush has learned to live life “undefended” in the midst of pain and discouragement. In good times and bad, he has asked himself if he is willing to let himself need God. Undefended invites us to ask the same question, and to abandon the defenses we typically raise in order to hide our vulnerability. By embracing our weaknesses and living authentically, we open ourselves to experience God’s grace like never before, and to connect more deeply with those closest to us. It’s a grace to welcome Daniel to the farm’s front porch today…
An hour before a special dinner on the last night of an intense, seven-day seminar at a training center in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina, we were busy in our rooms spiffing up.
I popped my head into the hallway and, to my surprise, saw a few ladies in beautiful summer dresses. Back in my room, my roommate donned a dress shirt and slacks. “Drat! I missed the memo,” I thought.
I hadn’t packed anything remotely appropriate.
A week earlier I had thought my roommate was nuts when he moved in, accompanied by a full rack of ironed clothes and a couple of suitcases on a trolley.
This was one time, however, where not being a minimalist paid off. He had slacks to spare and fortuitously offered me a pair. Thankful, I quickly changed out of my blue jeans and we headed off to dinner. I still sported my leather fisherman sandals; it was Asheville, after all.
We stood outside the small banquet room, laughing and taking pictures—would we ever see each other again?
Then the doors opened, and inside stood beautifully adorned tables and a window framing a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Conversation ensued and music filled the air while we dined on food that was to die for.
Yet I still felt a bit self-conscious wearing someone else’s pants.
In recalling that feeling, I’m led to wonder why we care so much about what everyone wears.
Why are we so uneasy about being caught out of place?
Why do we struggle to take off our masks and be seen as we are—people in need of the divine Tailor?
“The imposter must be called out of hiding and presented to Jesus, or feelings of hopelessness, confusion, shame, and failure will stalk us from dawn to dusk,” says Brennan Manning.
After dinner we took a break, mingling a bit before the evening’s events continued. I took the chance to chat briefly with the seminar speaker.
With a certain solemnity he charged me, “Let them see you.”
Did he somehow know about my wardrobe problem? Certainly he wasn’t suggesting I come to dinner without pants.
For the better part of a year, I struggled to figure out what he meant.
I had never shied away from personal anecdotes in my preaching and teaching, but I knew he was driving at something more profound.
The friends I spoke to about it since each have had a slightly different take. But one thing became clear: “being seen” requires neither playing hide-and-seek nor putting on an act.
In the summer of 1984, the Gillette Company launched a series of television commercials advertising its Dry Idea antiperspirants, which led to one of the wittiest and most memorable slogans in the English language: “Never let them see you sweat.”
There’s deep truth in that tagline, at least with regard to antiperspirants. I’ll even go as far as to apply it to business negotiations, trade deals, and global politics—but apply it to personal relationships, especially your relationship with God, at your peril.
Being seen as you truly are, in all of your mess and undignified glory—the jam-packed fears, feelings, and experiences of far too many emotional and spiritual famines—is at the heart of personal connection.
Connecting is about you being present.
It’s about you being present—not a caricature, or a dolled-up version, or an angel masquerading as you, just you.
It’s about you being present—your existence, life, the spiritual actuality of your very self.
It’s about you being present—being in this immediate time and space with your body, mind, and soul, not mentally a million miles away, distracted or preoccupied.
It’s never fearing being human. Humanity is not divinity. Humanity is inherently being in need—the creaturely need of continual connection to the Creator.
So much goes awry in the Christian community and in the lives of Christians when spiritual growth and maturity is equated with perfection.
Perfection is the furthest thing from maturity—first of all, because it’s an attribute of God alone, and second, since perfection implies the absence of need, a perfect being wouldn’t need God.
Neediness is an essential attribute of being truly human—and without it, you would be separated from connection with God.
Spiritual maturity is, therefore, not perfection, but the unique amalgamation of authenticity and need.
It’s seeing yourself and God rightly, as well as seeing and living out of that connection in every area, attitude, and action. This is becoming truly human: Finding your true self in Christ, who is Immanuel (“God with us”)—divine love in its outward expression.
By contrast, the “false self” is when you exist without conscious mindfulness of and trust in Christ.
It’s looking at your own mechanisms, accomplishments, abilities, and prowess—what you can produce—or looking at what others can provide and produce for you, as the basis and substance of your existence. You put on a mask and play a part in order to obtain what you think you need from others.
Current literature often discusses the true versus the false self. We are told time and again to “just be your self”— after all, this is no longer the Age of Aquarius, but the Age of Authenticity, is it not?
Authenticity means eliminating the gap between your inner belief and what you reveal to the outside world—in other words, letting your true self be seen.
According to one New York Times op-ed writer:
We want to live authentic lives, marry authentic partners, work for an authentic boss, vote for an authentic president. … But for most people, “be yourself” is actually terrible advice.
If I can be authentic for a moment: nobody wants to see your true self. We all have thoughts and feelings that we believe are fundamental to our lives, but that are better left unspoken.
A decade ago, the author A. J. Jacobs spent a few weeks trying to be totally authentic. He announced to an editor that he would try to sleep with her if he were single and informed his nanny that he would like to go on a date with her if his wife left him. He informed a friend’s five-year-old daughter that the beetle in her hands was not napping but dead. He told his in-laws that their conversation was boring. You can imagine how his experiment worked out.
Utter and complete neglect of self-monitoring is the furthest thing from what I mean by authenticity and becoming your true self, especially since a lot of what gets passed off as one’s true self is defensiveness or neediness.
For those who are naturally high self-monitors it could even be an exorbitant concern with reputation and how others perceive them, which still entrenches them in garnering existence from what others provide or produce.The true self is the person you are when your identity and dignity derive exclusively from who Jesus is.
Your false self is how you think about and present yourself to the world (or hide from it through debilitating self-monitoring or downright seclusion) when you function apart from the one crucial connection of human existence: the conscious actualization of God in real time.
As I’ve said, being authentically human, living out of your true self, isn’t wholesale subtraction of self-monitoring, but it does lead to a surprising degree of undefended living, trusting God himself to be the only security blanket you’ll ever need.
Life undefended is life without pretense, people-pleasing, playacting, pomposity, self-protection, and phony, pharisaical righteousness.
When your heart is undefended, awakened to the fact that it is secured in nothing other than the love of the Lord Jesus, a relational space opens where another can emerge from his or her hiding to join you — authentic connection occurs.
When I no longer live for myself, I can be open to God and my neighbor.
Daniel Bush has over 15 years of Christian ministry experience, including time in pastoral ministry, academic teaching, and spiritual directing. He is the coauthor of Embracing God as Father and Live in Liberty and is a guest blogger for the KeyLife Network and Faithlife.
Undefended: Discovering God When Your Guard Is Down looks at ten different life experiences that we try to avoid—including doubt, death, conflict, and loneliness—and shows how they bring us nearer to Christ. Daniel Bush explains that by presenting ourselves undefended before God in the midst of such circumstances, we can experience God’s heart through authenticity.
[ Our humble thanks to Lexham Press for their partnership in today’s devotion ]