My friend Keith used to say ‘Be yourself’. It was a simple phrase he repeated over and over in different contexts and different conversations. He just said it naturally – it flowed out of who he was.
Keith is with the Lord now. But we were good friends for about nine years before he died, and he had lived for seven years in almost complete solitude as a hermit. By his own admission he was not an intellectual, and yet like the Desert Fathers, he used to say things that sounded ridiculously simple and yet the profoundness of the simplicity could at times hit you like a tidal wave. That phase ‘Be yourself’ really had an impact on me, and I have come to see that my task in life is no more or less complicated than the simplicity of that calling. My task in life is no more or less awesome than that…
I don’t have to be some grandiose dreamt up image of myself, and I don’t have to consider myself a worthless worm… I can simply be myself. All of the call in scripture to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to produce God’s image in ourselves, such as ‘Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48), is none other than a call to be who I am, for every son wants to be like his Daddy. It’s not complicated, simply ‘Be yourself’… or in Jesus words ‘become like little children’ (Matthew 18:3).
‘Little children’… that is who we are, who we once were, and who we have always been deep down in our heart of hearts. Jesus is saying be reborn… become who you really are.
Your task in life is to ‘Be yourself’. That may sound obvious or it may sound crazy… depending on how you see and understand life. But I believe it to be true.
Perhaps we could say your task is to become yourself, but in that you are becoming what and who you already are. That is what sanctification is really about - you are not becoming less like yourself, but more like yourself!!
Sometimes our concepts of sin have caused us to think that we are so bad and that the image of God was so marred in us, that the only hope is to become something other than ourselves to be of any use…
I believe that whilst sin seriously broke, changed and wounded humanity and does, yet it did not destroy the image or the original design. That is still there waiting for the layers to be pulled off… like an old painting with layers painted on top of the original, needing the layers to be peeled off, and the old painting to be lovingly and intricately restored. The blindness, the brokenness, and the turning from love had and has serious effects for sure, but it is not the final word.
Ireneaus said that ‘The glory of God is man fully alive’.
In Romans we hear that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).
Perhaps in our heads our picture when reading that verse has been a standard of glory that is above us and unobtainable that we cannot and will never reach.
But what if the glory that we have fallen short of is the glory of Imago Dei, the image of God of Genesis 1:27? ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’
That is a lot of glory, to be created in the image of God.
In the image of His overwhelming and selfless love.
We have fallen short of that glory, that image…
It then follows that redemption (which is a buying back) and sanctification, is about the recovery of that image that still lies within us, though broken, wounded and marred.
God’s work in our individual lives and in the whole of creation is all about restoration, and taking us even further than restoration into incorporation into His very life.
Surely the new self that we are told to put on in the New Testament is the true self – the true identity of our hearts as unique sons and daughters redeemed and hidden in Christ…
You are not called to be someone else or something else beyond you and out of your reach…
You are called to be yourself.
But to be yourself you need to like yourself, and to like yourself you really need to know that someone else likes you.
Brennan Manning in his book, the wisdom of Tenderness says:
‘Biblically tenderness is what follows when someone reveals to you your own inner beauty, when you discover your belovedness, when you experience that you are deeply and sincerely liked by someone. If you communicate to me that you really like me, not just love me as a brother in Christ, that you take delight in me (and would, even if I’d never written a single sentence), then you open up to me the possibility of liking myself. The look of amiable regard in your eyes banishes my fears, and my defence mechanisms (such as insulation, name-dropping, and giving the impression that I’ve got it all together) disappear into the nothingness of my non-attention to them. Your warmth withers my self-disdain and allows the possibility of self-esteem. I drop my mask of pretentious piety, stop impersonating Brother Teresa, quit disguising my sanctimonious voice, start to smile at my own frailty, and dare to become more open, sincere, vulnerable, and affectionate with you than I would ever dream of being if I thought you didn’t like me. In short, what happens is I grow tender.’
Then he quotes one of his favourite stories about a nephew and an eighty year old uncle going for a walk along a lake in Ireland to see the sun rise, when suddenly,
‘The elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.
After catching up with him, Ed commented, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”
“Yes lad”, the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”
‘Clearly Seamus answered in the affirmative the question … “Do I wholeheartedly trust that God likes me?” (Not loves me, because, as you will recall, God loves by necessity of his nature.) If you too can answer with a gut-level honesty, “Oh yes, the Father is very fond of me,” there comes a relaxedness and serenity, a compassionate attitude toward yourself in your brokenness, that elucidates the meaning of tenderness.’
But to really like ourselves we need to know that we are likeable.
I think Psalm 139 is a really good place to start if we struggle to accept our likeability.
‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.’ (Psalm 139:13-16)
The very intricate details of who you are are wonderful. The Psalmist is getting revelation about who he is: Your works are wonderful. I am one of those works, therefore I must be wonderful…
Really, wonderful? With all my wounds, all my mistakes, all my frailty? Yes.
So if I’m wonderful, I must be likeable… there is nothing ‘not likeable’ in my true nature.
And then, of course the other thing to say about your likeability is that you are unique.
You can’t look at holiness as becoming a carbon copy of something...
The restoration of who you are, can only be in terms of uniqueness.
There is not another like you in the whole world – simply physically there is no-one who looks exactly the same, unless you have an identical twin! And even then no-one has your fingerprint!
Looking at the natural world, we can see this principle of uniqueness in so many areas… There are many different colours, but with each colour there is an astonishing variety of shades of that colour. Just look in any DIY store on the paint aisle and this is clear to see. There is an infinite variety of shapes – there are the more well-known ones, but there is no limit to potential for different types of shape, and when you add to that an infinite possibility of sizes for each shape, the potential for uniqueness becomes amazing. I’ve been watching a Winnie the Pooh episode about shapes and sizes with my two and a half year old son recently, and so I should know!
What’s amazing when you think about who you are or who I am as a unique person, a unique creation, a unique design, is that it’s not just that you are one unique shade of one colour… it is that you are a patchwork quilt of many different shades of many different colours, into one unique overall design, that has never existed before, nor will in any other person. If you like, you are a unique tapestry of threads. Quite simply, you are a work of art.
I’ve heard it said that in Ephesians 2:10, ‘For we are God’s workmanship’, can be understood in translation as saying, ‘We are God’s work of art’. And that is surely true.
You see before the world was even created, your heavenly Father dreamt up your unique design in a way that He would be very proud of (Ephesians 1:4-5). You get to choose how you creatively live out that design, or whether you run from it, but the design itself is a gift. You - the core of who you are and who you are made to be - is a gift. And it is a gift that is unique and unlike any other on the planet!
I expect many things in this world, have worked against your uniqueness, and tried to keep you from being your unique self… for when the glory of your unique self is uncovered then the kingdom of God comes through you...
Firstly, the expectations and rules of others around you when you were young and their inability to see who you truly were made to be…
Secondly, the rules and limitations of a society that has focused more on strength, the outward, the able, the rational and the outgoing… than all the weaker, more inward, needy, emotional/spiritual and contemplative parts of humanity. So that if you present one image it is ok, and if you present another it is not.
And thirdly, perhaps semi-fundamentalist religion, which can be very black and white, may have also prevented you from really being loved and loving, and being your true self.
I believe these factors are what scripture means by the world – all that is not formed by love and freedom.
Like Lucy in ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ wanting to be like her older sister who she saw as attractive and desirable, we can forget our true selves and try and be someone else. But Aslan saw and loved her and wanted her to be herself, not her sister, and not what she thought she should be… to be who she truly was.
Much of my journey has been learning to accept that, though I am a different shape to many others - a contemplative, gentle, sensitive, creative and fun loving person… moving at a much slower pace, than our pressured and fast paced society says is acceptable or ok – yet, that shape is how I am meant to be, how I am designed to be… and the more I can accept and love that shape, rather than hide, run from and mask it because of what society, religion, or others around me tell me I should be, then the more I can reflect the glory of God that is given to me and placed within my heart.
So if that is true it becomes a part of our journey to listen to the desires of our hearts; to listen to the things we like and enjoy doing, and to find the many colours that have been placed within.
It is not about trying to become someone else, or what we thought we were meant to be - it is about becoming the unique self that we are!
In the depths of your self is a desire for love, and being loved, and to love completely selflessly…
Being ourselves, causes us to love and accept ourselves, and enjoy expressing and being our colours, but it does not make us selfish or self-obsessed, for the true self is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Created to be relational in the image of the trinity and to reflect in connection with others the image of that self-giving love that is at the heart of all that is.
Jesus’ whole work of redemption is to redeem and restore the whole of creation.
To redeem, restore and renew all that was lost and broken.
But the whole of creation includes you!!
And his work in your life is to redeem and restore the real you…
His work in dealing with sin is to remove and heal the effects that the sin of Adam, your sins, and the many sins against you, have had on your life until you can truly be yourself…
He is not trying to change or alter you, but only ever to heal and restore you...
Love doesn't set out to change the other, but to champion the other in becoming themselves.
So I say with reverence and simplicity the words of my friend Keith the Hermit,
‘Be yourself’… simply, ‘Be yourself’. For that is the ‘you’ that God loves, that is the ‘you’ that God made, and that really is the only ‘you’ that exists.
 CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (London: Collins, 1952).