Age 15 to 25 is often revered as the good ole' days in most people's minds. Studies show these memories carry long into the later years of life, partly because of how many firsts they contain. First car, kiss, girlfriend, boyfriend, graduation, job, spouse, sex. These monumental markers are packed into a decade of identity shaping.
I left off last week at a recommitment, which coincidentally launched me into those next 10 formative years. I could write a 100,000 words on the pursuits that ensued after feeling called by God to live a meaningful life. I threw myself into ministry, whether it was worship music, church functions, or mission trips, and my life became defined by that type of activity.
I've led worship hundreds of times and have spent months on foreign soil in the name of the Gospel since then. I don't bring that up as a list of accolades but as a caution to all on this faith journey. Years later I have learned it's possible to be experiencing kingdom life while simultaneously letting the activity create a false self and sense of security.
Here's what I mean...it's totally possible to be doing work for God and portions of your inner soul not grow at the same pace as the spiritual persona you're creating on the outside.
I read about something called Impression Management recently, where we will (often subconsciously) act in a way that influences others' opinions of us based on how we want to be perceived. I didn't know it at the time, but I got really good at Impression Management.
Don Miller writes in his book Scary Close about a concept called the Shame Circle. At the center of the circle is our shame, guilt, insecurity, fear. We draw a second circle around the center and put up our defense (humor in his case). Then another, and another.
Don explains how his outer circles were filled with things like humor, hard work, ambition, performance. He could avoid doing the difficult inner work for as long as he could uphold the outer circles.
The problem is the charade can never last. I remember the first time I understood Impression Management, the Shame Circle, and the circles I created to maintain a semblance of peace in my life. I broke down, and I've been peeling back the layers since.
I had developed a performance complex of sorts. I could do well in school. I could play music and influence people. I excelled at most of my endeavors. The pursuits and the pace kept the peace, until I couldn't do it anymore.
The Impression Management and Shame Circle helped avoid some really bad decisions, but the lack of true vulnerability came at a cost. I think I was more highly regarded than I was helpful in a lot of cases.
Early on, I made it a point to not drink alcohol before I was twenty-one, smoke cigarettes, or have sex before marriage. Looking back I had a lot of pride because of my commitment. I'm not saying I wish I had led a life of debauchery and promiscuity through my teenage years, but I put a lot more stock in my glossy exterior than I should have. My inner self, though growing some, was missing out on a life without the Impression Management or Shame Circle.
I made it to a few months before my twenty-first birthday before I tried alcohol. I'm not condoning underage drinking, but I'm kinda glad it happened the way it did. I got so close to my legalistic success and blew the whole thing by falling a few months short.
I think that one shortcoming is representative of a heart that grew up in church and placed so much value in an external, spiritual persona. I tried really hard to be "good" on my own, but the reality is my self-righteousness was worthless and helping no one.
I'm still working out some of the old habits. There's a part of me that sometimes shields away from true transparency and vulnerability. I do know this, though: the most meaningful conversations I've had, that yielded the most life change, were with people who had laid impressions and their own Shame Circle aside and said, "I need help," not, "Look at my righteousness."
I am trying to be the type of person who can throw open the curtains and let light flood into the darkest rooms of my soul. To invite others into that room. To ask for help. To say I don't have it all together. To admit I'm wrong. And to embrace others when they do the same.
I'm discontent with inauthenticity now. It's a waste of time and a sacrifice I'm not willing to make. Again, I would rather be helpful than held in high regard...
The fourth and final part of the Turning Points series will continue next week.
In the meantime, you might want to check out: