“God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of himself.” (Thomas Merton)
But am I true to that word? Or do I impose sanctions against myself in an empty attempt to manage myself to my myself and to my world.
Someone recently told that they loved me and I thought, “Do you love me or the version of me I have either presented to you or the one you have crafted yourself in your imagination?” It was an honest question, because I realize that I do not always present my true self. I present part of myself, but not the whole. And while a certain amount of self-censoring may be advantageous to conduct business and be socially acceptable in a general sense, there should be some people with whom you can actually be yourself.
We hear it all the time right? Be yourself. Oscar Wilde said to be yourself because everyone else is already taken.
Yet, sometimes I am only partially myself. And unlike God who is pure actuality, who can utter me like a partial thought of himself, if I present a partial version of myself it very well contains a lie. God’s partial thought of me is the whole truth about myself. My partial version of myself is a whole lie. And a lie is a manipulation. Especially if you are a person who has a history of dealing with volatile people or have experienced repeated rejection, it is easier to tell those lies that to present the true version of self. This is one way to manage and manipulate other people. The reason being if I want a particular reaction from you, maybe I should not reveal too much my actual thoughts. Hold back—just enough—to manage the other’s response.
I predetermine your reaction to me and reject myself before you have a chance to reject me. I self-censor and in that way I steal your freedom. You stay with me under false pretenses of my illusionary self.
“We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!”
This pre-rejection makes me my own tyrant. I don’t need an outside tyrant to censor my free speech. I can do that all by myself, And then I can weave experiences around myself the way the Invisible Man wraps clothes around himself simply to be seen. “…when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.”
Can I present my uncensored self in a way that is both soft and true? The narrative of the age is to throw “identity” around like a weapon that separates and ostracizes people, putting each person on unsure footing in every relationship and interaction. Nothing is further from what it means to be true to yourself like identity politics. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit and a response to the nearness of God. (Philippians 4)
Truth, goodness, and beauty have to accompany each other. Take away truth and what is left becomes insipid. Take away goodness and what is left becomes grotesque. Take away beauty and what is left becomes cold. We have all known people who embrace one or two transcendentals but have no use for the other—or redefine it to justify its exclusion. Then the whole structure crumbles like the house of cards it is.
I can only give glory to God by living as authentically as I can to his version of me, that partial thought of God he utters that is me. In which case, I must give up the propensity to censor myself in order to be loved or accepted or admired. I must not be my own tyrant who separates myself from myself, thereby making me unknowable.
“Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusionary person: a false self. This is the man I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.”
(All quotations from the New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton)