Dwell with God (Tuesday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Tuesday Week 1
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Romans 8:9
“How do I know that I’m living out of my true self in Christ?” she asked, frustrated by her lack of consistency in her spiritual journey. It’s a good question, and it’s the right question. Too often, our questions revolve around whether or not we’re doing the ‘godly’ thing, living behaviorally in a faithful and obedient way. But my friend was asking a more profound question – How do I know that I’m living out of my deepest identity, my “true self” in Christ?
For St. Paul, it seems that the true self is the Christ-self, God hidden and dwelling within us by the Spirit. You may know it when you experience it – moments of compassion and connection to God and others, inclinations to self-giving love, a heart quickened to extend grace, to forgive effortlessly. You may also be thinking, “Why is this such an infrequent experience for me?” Don’t worry, I feel the same way! I can feel so conflicted within.
I’ve actually learned to develop some inner dialogue around these competing parts. When I’m feeling especially judgmental of someone, I’ll sometimes pause and imagine a conversation within between my true self and this angry part of me. I’ll imagine Jesus, joined in union with my deepest self, showing compassion, listening well, showing curiosity. A recent dialogue went something like this:
Me (In Jesus!): You seem very angry. What’s going on?
Angry Part: I was misunderstood…again. I’m so mad.
Me: Tell me some more about it.
Angry Part: This friend made a huge assumption about my motives and his words felt condescending and judgmental. I’d love to fire an email away at him and tell him what I think and how wrong he is.
Me: Thanks for saying that. I’m so sorry that happened. Take a few minutes to relax and breathe, and know that I’m here with you. I love you.
Angry Part: I’ve taken some time now to breathe. I feel less angry knowing you see me and understand.
Now, the first time I tried this I felt somewhat silly, and wondered if I was schizophrenic. Let me assure you, however…I’m not and you’re not. We do experience inner conflict, however. There are parts of us that can feel angry, ashamed, misunderstood, frightened, abandoned. There are parts of us that may feel very young and vulnerable. These parts of us need the care of Christ in unique ways. In fact, with some practice you might find yourself engaging in meaningful and healing inner conversations around these different parts of you.
So, what is the true self like? A favorite psychologist of mine uses 7 c’s to describe the true self: calm, compassionate, courageous, clear, creative, curious, connected.[i] I find it interesting that psychologists are discovering attributes of this true self that are beautifully analogous to the fruits of the Spirit! What if psychology has accidentally discovered that life in the Spirit is actually the most healthy, vibrant, soul-nourishing life there is?
You are in the Spirit. Christ dwells in you. It may not always feel like it. You might be triggered to anger, flooded with shame. But it’s your deepest reality. Beneath your brokenness is a profound goodness – God dwelling within.
Compassionate Spirit, you are more kind to me than I imagined. It is astounding to imagine that you dwell in me, longing to heal my many inner conflicts. I’ve got work to do, but knowing that you are listening and loving within is such an encouragement. Thank you for your kindness to me. Amen
[i] See the works of Internal Family Systems theorist Richard Schwartz.