Today I’ve been thinking about that place in us that doesn’t change by will power, diligence or good intention. It’s our perception of ourselves. My self-perception, historically, has seemed to fluctuate like the stock market, between an inflated sense of greatness and irrational inferiority. Case in point:
Not long ago, I was in Auckland, New Zealand. (geez I like saying that) Anyway, Bill, Bruce and I are just about done with our speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand. And this particular morning I am sitting alone in the hotel restaurant, reading the local paper. I look up to notice a young couple sitting down, two tables away. This is not just any young couple. They are right out of an international fashion magazine, dressed hip and trendy-incredibly fit and beautiful. Their clothes are sprayed on, I think. I try not to stare, positioning myself behind the paper, in such a manner as to be able to stare. He stands up to get some coffee while she stays at the table, just looking incredibly attractive and fashionable.
At some point, she notices me, not staring, and she smiles kindly at me before turning away to look out the window. And in an instant this incredibly bizarre scene takes over in my mind:
“See, I’m not stupid. I’ve seen that smile before. John, you old dog, you’ve still got it! She likes you. No, she’s captivated with you. That smile says ‘Please sir, take me away with you. I’ll dump this guy in a heartbeat. Take me with you.’ How sad. She doesn’t know that I’m married and have a life of my own-that it’s too late for her. I can’t help her.
Just about then the incredibly handsome man returns to the table. Its obvious he senses that something is very wrong. He can feel the tension, the electricity. He looks quickly over at me and then back to her. It’s clear he’s thinking, “Oops, I’ve got some competition here.”
I so much want to jump up and take him aside and say, “Hey buddy, listen, you don’t worry about a thing here. I’m a Christian. I love my wife dearly. We’ve been married 25 years. I’m not going to steal this woman from you.” Instead, I come to the conclusion that it would be better for all of us, if I just get up and leave the room…
In fairness, the illusion didn’t really last that long. But for a few seconds I actually was aware of my concern and awkward embarrassment for the guy’s obvious awareness of her infatuation with me.
How absolutely crazy is that? I’m 56. I’m pudgy, I’ve got hair that looks like wheat glued to my head with carpenter’s glue. And I’ve got a space between my teeth you could drive a pinion nut through. My feet turn out, I’ve got hair growing out of my ears and I can’t remember our last three presidents names without hints.
The truth is, when I got up from the table and turned to walk out of the room, one of them probably said to the other, “That sweet old man is amazing. He’s down here at breakfast all by himself and he found the food and everything! His grandchildren must be still asleep. He probably dressed himself. And look at him shuffling out without a walker. I hope I’m as spry as him when I get to be that age.”
When does that self-deception, that inflated view of self leave us? I’m not sure, but I’m pretty certain it’s after 56.
That inaccurate self-story we can tell ourselves, can show up at any time, in any area of our lives. It comes from the effects of shame, of wanting to re-create ourselves to be someone worthy of love. Because life can try to teach us that we are not. The only antidote strong enough to invade my dishonest self story is to trust God’s assessment of me, His assessment of my lovableness. His choice to love me and His choice to call me His beloved, His choice to fuse His identity with mine-is my only hope of breaking the spell of shame.
God knows that even if this “inflated” self- image were true, that if indeed that women –strangely attracted to tooth gaps and woodenly thatched hair- did want to run away with me; that this would not be a validation of my worth or value. In fact, this would represent an opportunity to deconstruct the life of cherished love with my wife and family that God has been weaving all these years.
In the last twenty years I have increasingly believed these truths. And receiving His love, His delight, His unchanging assessment has curbed my madness, my self-deceived charade. Most of the time I see myself pretty accurately: Christ in John Lynch! And it has made sense of this person He has made me.
…But I still do have my moments, don’t I