True Belonging: Self

Last week we used reverse thinking, determining that we don’t belong to the world, to help us understand where we do belong — with Jesus. This week we’ll implement a similar strategy as we seek to find ways to live in the world, but not of it, as those who belong to Jesus.

We’ll start by looking at the things we do in our attempts to belong in the world. I’ll start a list, and you tell me what else can be added:

  • ____ like everyone else
    • Dress
    • Eat
    • Drink
    • Speak
    • Drive
    • Read
    • Watch
  • Hide our true selves
  • Avoid vulnerability (which might be the same as above)
  • Perform
  • Pretend
  • Over-commit
  • Make excuses (for ourselves and those to whom we want to belong)
  • Allow others to control us
  • Overlook others’ bad habits or narcissistic tendencies

When we’re living “of the world,” we put a lot of effort into achieving a sense of belonging. And most of it is false, not of our true selves. I’ve been learning over the last several years that as kids we subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) learned to hide our true selves. Maybe because we had to protect ourselves from very real harm. Or maybe because someone told us we weren’t good enough. Or maybe we just wanted to fit-in so much that we adapted to what and who were around us.

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

While hiding our true selves might have aided us in childhood, the false self doesn’t help us in adulthood. But because we’re accustomed to the person we’ve become, we don’t do the inner work of breaking through the walls to rediscover and release our true selves, that self God always intended us to be.

Ever wonder why midlife crises seem to be so real and not just urban legend? It’s been explained to me that it’s because all those defenses we put up in our younger years quit working, so we’ll either add another layer of defense to mask our insecurities and brokenness (hello, red sports car), or we’ll finally do the deeper work of peeling back the layers to get to our true selves.

The desire to belong is rooted deeply within all of us, but the false self twists it into distorted versions that aren’t true belonging and will do just about anything to achieve it. Just look at the list above! 😉 

The movie Mean Girls keeps coming to mind. I think of Lindsay Lohan’s character who enters the scene living out of her truest self possible — full of love and hope and security that came from living a life that was not “of the world.” But when she steps into public high school, the desire to belong takes over, and all kinds of walls get built, hiding who she really is. As the movie progresses, she lies, manipulates, cheats, and turns her back on true friends in order to fit in with the popular girls. At one point, it hits her that living out of her false self has cost her everything she’d really wanted, and she begins doing the hard, painful work of getting back to her true self.

The movie analogy oversimplifies the process we’re describing here, but it gives us some tangible scenarios to connect to these loftier, spiritual (and psychological) truths.

If we want to find true belonging, we’re going to have to find our true selves.

In my experience, it takes much longer than the last fifteen minutes of a movie, or even the reading of one blog post, to remove all the walls and layers, all the blinders and habits that hide the true self. But it’s worth the effort.

A really great first step is to understand how differently the true and false selves function. I found a great article that contrasts them. I’ll list a few here to cheer us onward toward true-self seeking:

The true self is who you are with God.
The false self is who you are trying to become with people.

The true self is timeless.
The false self is always altering.

The true self is in a state of rest.
The false self is restlessly needing to prove and protect itself.

The true self is content.
The false self is insatiable.

The true self doesn’t need to perform.
The false self needs to be impressive.

The true self is influenced by God’s heart.
The false self is influenced by social pressures.

The next step is spending quality with God in order to get really self-aware. I’ve found the Enneagram to be one of the most helpful tools in aiding my effort to learn more about my true self, as have conversations with licensed professionals and wise clergy. Add to all that time in Scripture, journaling, and getting into God’s presence so I can hear from him, and I’m much further down the path of uncovering my true self than I was ten years ago.

Most recently I’ve begun having spiritual responses to Scriptures that speak to the idea of dying to self. Jesus spoke of a seed that dies as it falls from the wheat, lifeless until it works down into the soil where it sprouts and new life is begun, more seeds are grown (John 12:24). Paul takes this same idea of dying to the old self and coming to life with Christ to our new self (2 Corinthians 5:17 is one).

I’ve been searching for the just right passage among all the options in the New Testament to share here, and I couldn’t believe it when I read Galatians 2:19-21 in The Message. So, here it is:

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.

Step one — stop trying to live life by the world’s rules
Step two — Christ’s life shows us how to be God’s woman 😉
Step three — identify yourself completely with Christ
Step four — die with Christ to self, to ego, to needing others’ good opinions
Step five — trust that Christ lives in you
Step six — live by faith in Christ because HE LOVES YOU and gave His life for you

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

Friends, we try so hard, striving to belong, to fit in, to impress — and it’s all just so empty. But guess what gives life, what fills this internal drive to belong? Jesus. 100%, all the time, Jesus.

Don’t hear what is not being said — you are not a bad person. God loves you just as you are. He created you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet in His magnificent, perfect love for you, God desires for you to live your best life, as your best and truest self. 

Yes, it requires sitting in our emotions so we can become spiritually aware. Yes, it means we have to be willing to lay down the masks and peel back the layers, risking vulnerability. Yes, to live life as our true selves means putting all our trust in God, the One who knows us best — the One who has forgiven us and sent His Son to die for us SO THAT WE CAN LIVE. 

And belong.

We don’t have to keep striving and living the twisted version of belonging in the world that the false self tries so hard to attain because we’ve been made free of all of that. By dying to self and laying down the old self. By stepping into the new life Jesus is calling us toward. 

My prayer is that as you leave this space today that you’ll either begin, restart, or continue to find your true self. She’s beautiful. She’s gifted. She’s full of life and hope. She’s not afraid. And she’s discovering her truest place of belonging.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bits-and-pieces-1-e1630621292882.png
  • Another story comes to mind — a Greek myth about the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, and her daughter Persephone. In essence, Persephone got abducted by Hades, god of the underworld, because he wanted her as his wife. Demeter fought to get her daughter back and, depending on which version of the story your read, once Zeus stepped in to get her back, Persephone had to choose which world she wanted to belong to. When she ate pomegranate seeds, her fate was decided. She belonged to the underworld. Still her mother wouldn’t be deterred, so a compromise was struck, and Persephone spent two-thirds of the year on earth, one-third in the underworld.
    • Did you see what I did there? I slipped-in the pomegranate! Persephone was caught in this battle of belonging, and it was the pomegranate that helped give her definition. 
    • I’m fascinated to see how the WORLD has leaned into the deeper symbolism of the pomegranate, but in the end, we have to step back and remember who we are in Christ, how we’re shaped by His WORD.  
    • There’s a famous 1921 illustration by Virginia Frances Sterrett capturing the moment that Persephone, at first, refused a pomegranate offered to her in the palace of Hades. It turns out that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “The Pomegranate Seeds,” also captures the struggle between Proserpina (aka: Persephone) and Pluto (aka: Hades) as Proserpina is tempted by a pomegranate that happens to be the last piece of fruit in all the world — in case you wanted further reading.

Virginia Frances Sterrett | Persephone | Art Deco Illustration
  • If you’re interested in learning more about yourself via the Enneagram, I recommend starting with the book The Road Back to You.*
  • I hope you’ll use your Journal regularly as you embark on this self-awareness journey. What comes out of our heads and onto the paper is often divine inspiration and revelation!
  • And, of course, our Belonging playlist has incredible music to encourage and equip you along the way.
  • Keep saying it, I belong to Jesus.

*this is an affiliate link, which means I’ll receive a bit of compensation

The featured photo is by Caroline Veronez on Unsplash.

Published by Shelley Johnson

Follower of Christ, wife, mother of three, daughter, sister, friend. Seeker of ways to share the love I've found in Jesus with others.

3 thoughts on “True Belonging: Self

  1. Doing this search of myself right now. Making lots of mistakes, and asking God to help me figure out who I am and where He wants me to be.

    1. Lord Jesus, be with Amy. We’re so grateful that You see her and love her. May your Spirit work within her to do all the holy revealing she needs as she rests in your love and looks ahead to all the new You have in store for her.. 💜🙏

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