January 27, 2021

Wandering the Wilderness of Falsity

Lent 2012: A Journey through the Wilderness
Wandering the Wilderness of Falsity

“Our false selves are the identities we cultivate in order to function in society with pride and self-possession; our real selves are a deep religious mystery, known entirely only to God.”—Thomas Merton

I don’t know why this is such revelation to me. You’d think a half century into this life I might have a clue that my false self has been muddying things up … creating a growing sense of incongruence and a mortifying awareness that I’m a colossal fake. Then again, the essence of falsity is deception and I am my own number one dupe.

In past posts, I’ve shared some of the baggage I dragged from childhood to my young adult years. It all had to do with parental alcoholism and the anxiety it left me, the despairs of parental divorce and the depression it left me, the circumstances of parental chaos and the need for control it left me. Not to belittle my strides to get free or God’s hand to draw me to freedom, but somehow I believed I just chucked all those loaded bags out the car windows of my life and was miraculously and fairly instantly free. By that, I mean the two years it took to function without the need of weekly counseling and daily meds … but I was deluding myself. The truth is that I discovered depression is hard on marriages and friendships. Chronically controlling situations and people to anesthetize anxiety is also a big turn-off for most as well. So what did I do? I got happy and sweet and passive.

From the first moments of nascent awareness, we humans take stock of what the world finds acceptable. Through the molding of parents, siblings, friends, teachers and others we learn proper family or societal behaviors (or at least what these tell us is proper in their various forms and degrees of dysfunction). We learn good playground etiquette, submission to authority, whether sincere or patronizing, and generally how to slog through life. Even teenagers (I’ve had three) going through periods of rebellion against parents to establish their individuality and personhood, are really just complying with expectations of peers in most cases. Consciously or sub-consciously, we strive for the most safety and least risk. Not all of this is bad … unless we enjoy disorder and anarchy, but the downside is that we present ourselves, sometimes quite convincingly, as other than we really are. It’s saddest and scariest that we are so habitual in this that we come to really believe our own lies. We fool ourselves and often we can fool our observers, but when our cover gets blown, the repercussions range from mild to severe – at least until the relief of authenticity begins to manifest.

Just briefly laying this out brings to mind a host of problems stemming from erecting and promoting fake identities. Think of those who have followed educational and career paths they hated in order to please parents or just to get a certain standard of living. What about clergy or other Christians who espouse spiritual, financial or moral credos to achieve acceptance in religious communities rather than acknowledging they either wallow in self-righteousness or pigsties of sin – or both? Then when an infraction occurs … well, we’ve seen such uproars and scandals. Maybe we’ve found ourselves smack dab in the middle of uproar and scandal. Most of us have felt deceived at one time or another … and most of us have deceived … in words and relationships, in image and demeanor, in character and conviction. We don’t set out to do this on purpose. Really, I don’t think we do.

Granted, our deceptions cause great upheavals in our relationships. Yet, discovery of our fraud … of behavior yes, but mostly of essence, precipitates a greater crisis with self and with God. We find that we have not been the real children we thought we were. We are so many wooden Pinnochios harboring secret disdain for the Geppetto who made us and running after false pleasures that deceive as we also deceive. We won’t become fully human until we spend time in the belly of a fish. It is painful and it is a process.

Oswald Chambers said, “God is making us spell out our own souls. It is slow work, so slow that it takes God all time and eternity to make a man and woman after His own purpose.” These words both reassure me and discourage me. On the one hand I can be relieved that I am not particularly slow and dull.  On the other, there’s still all that time and eternity of having bits of my false self painfully dismantled.

Being 50 now and tired … and maybe even a little jaded, I have to ask myself, “Is it worth it? What are the stakes? After all, I’m pretty good at living as a fake. I’ve had lots of practice by now and everyone’s used to me this way … maybe even prefer me this way. Why not just get along as best I can with all the other fakes for my remaining time on earth? Why rock the boat?”

George MacDonald, an intense Scottish preacher who influenced both C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton on their spiritual paths, wrote, “I think they have refused the truth, knowing that it was true—not carried away, as I have said, by wild passion, but by cold self-love, and envy, and avarice, and ambition; not merely doing wrong knowingly, but setting their whole natures knowingly against the light. Of this nature must the sin against the Holy Ghost surely be … In this sin against the Holy Ghost, I see no single act alone, although it must find expression in many acts, but a willful condition of the mind.” In this case, the stakes are spiritual darkness and a hardness of unyielded will. “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1John 1:6).

Thomas Merton describes the stakes of fakery with God this way. “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man that I want to be but who cannot exist because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.”

Too much privacy, indeed … stakes of the most desperate kind. It is the abandonment of us to the aloneness of Hell. Why should he not say, “Depart from me” if he has never known us (Matthew 7:23)? And if he has never known us, it is because have persisted in the wooden ways of Pinocchio. It is because we have resisted becoming what God envisioned us to be before the founding the world – his real sons and daughters.

Just like that wooden boy, we are the works of our Creator, children of God. But as MacDonald contends, many parents know the pain of giving birth to or adopting children who, through their cold hearts and lack of honor and attention, make it clear they have no intention of being true sons and daughters. They may bear the name or carry the family resemblance or hold their hands out to share in the family goods, but the relationship is merely biological or legal. It is void of the unity that comes from the bond of love.

Pinocchio was Geppetto’s creation. Yet all the time he was running away, listening to the lies of men telling him what he must be and do … all the time he was chasing the world and he was a soulless piece of wood. He did not become a real boy until he loved his maker enough to run to him. At last he said like the prodigal son, “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18) and he did become his father’s true son.

So what is God’s remedy for our woodenness, our false representation to the world and to him? I hate to even say it, because it’s scary. I also hate to say it because it is a fairly new concept to me and I lack authority to present it. And … I hate to say it because I am still such a puppet myself, all strings and wood and fakeness. Yet, we’re 1,400 words into this and I’m committed. The remedy is fire.

Yes, fire. That word doesn’t conjure up images of a gracious and loving God, does it? That is why I said this concept is new to me. That God is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) is not new knowledge. I have trembled at the thought many times. That his consuming fire is not for punishment, but for the loving purpose of burning away everything wooden and false … that it is for rescuing and revealing the true son or daughter inside, that is news. And it is good.

All that is destructible must be burned. MacDonald writes, “It is not that the fire will burn us if we do not worship thus; but that the fire will burn us until we worship thus; yea, will go on burning within us after all that is foreign to it has yielded to its force, no longer with pain and consuming, but as the highest consciousness of life, the presence of God … the burning goes deeper and deeper … till it reaches the roots of the falsehood that enslaves …”

That is what God is doing in me. All that baggage I thought I left on the side of the road was really still in the car with me. I noticed the depression suitcase on the seat beside me a few months ago while sharing the sorrows of loved ones and also finally admitting I don’t really like the job I have worked for many years. The depression suitcase popped open a few weeks ago when my husband was diagnosed, first with an autoimmune disease, and then with cancer. Then I got a notice in the mail that the state wanted to audit my business. Really God? The anxiety bag too?

The good news is that the smoke you see coming out of my car window is from burning baggage. God does know what he’s doing. First he had to show me all that stuff was still with me. Nothing like a crisis or two to reveal the “falsehood that enslaves.” Do I like it? No. Do I believe that God fiercely loves me in the fire … that he fiercely loves me with and by his fire? Yes. I pray on the other side of these things I’ll be the true daughter God wants to know. I pray through these things that I will be kind … really and truly kind. I just don’t think I could stand getting through the wilderness to discover I am also mean. Then again, I’m sure God has some fire that could take care of that too.

Postscript: Three days of auditing was completed yesterday and the woman who examined us was affirming. That was a benefit I had not anticipated. I never feel I am doing a good enough job and worry as a result. And being rid of that worry has rekindled appreciation for the work I have been given.

As to my husband … he has been taken under the wing of a wonderful doctor friend from our church who is guiding him through the process of a second opinion and future treatment. God is good.









  1. Yes, God is good. And when we are in the midst of the fire and we get to 50 or 60 and we have no face because we learned to hide and be a yes man…it is scary. We don’t know ourselves and depending on how many masks we have worn, coming out of the closet to being real is perhaps the hardest thing we will ever go through. Because the feeling can be that there is no one behind the mask. I ground under the teaching of “you must die to self” for years because I didn’t know what self had to die. Now I am 65. Only by God’s gracious tenderness have I been able to begin shedding the masks that I didn’t know. It involved learning to say “no, I don’t believe that, or think that, or will go that way”. It was trusting God in the fire and growing to receive a grace for myself that was totally foreign to my understanding. It was where I began to come out from rooted fear to resting in Christ”s love and tenderness.
    My own valley turned into a meadow because Christ became greater to me and I look back on the past 15 years and know it was good.
    Prayers for your husband and a good report. My husband and I have both been through cancer…his colon…mine breast. It has been a place where our faith has grown. Yours will too.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    JMJ over at Christian Monist returns to a similar theme time and time again, how much of Evangelical Culture becomes Careful Cultivation of Christianese Falsity. Beware Thou of The Mutant.

  3. Interesting…I sit at my desk awaiitng news on my Dad. For the past 2 days I probably only got about 6 hours of sleep. My stomach is in knots….and i can’t unwind.

    My Dad has a brain tumor. Since January 12, 2012 this has been a rocky road for my family. I remember when I walked through the door and saw the text message from my sister about my Dad having a stroke. “Oh Shit” I thought…and with that the phonecalls began, and the uncerttinaity notched up as the news kept coming from the ER.

    “Is it a stroke?”
    “When did it happen?”

    And the questions kept coming not just be me but by the medical staff as they figured things out. Then my Dad had a seizure and was transfered to another hospital that had a stroke care unit. I called a friend of mine and went to his apartment on Capital Hill in the middle of the night…I didn’t want to be alone.

    So through all the MRI scans, doctor visits, etc.. the final diagnosis came down on Friday evening.

    It’s brain tumor…

    So my family is in the San Francisco Bay Area at one of the Medical Centers getting treated and my Dad is being preped for surgery as I write this. I hope all goes well and that the doctor will get all of it, and that it won’t be malignant.

    I love my Dad so much and want this to be over. But my family has gone through a lot…pancreatic cancer, schizophrenia, 2 years of unemployment due to the economy, etc….

  4. Lent (along with other Catholic frumperies, like monasticism) represents an attempt by man to get into heaven by his own power and virtue This is the opposite of Christianity, which teaches that we can never make ourselves right before God–instead, we need to acknowledge our depravity, and ask Jesus Christ for forgiveness. To practice Lent is to commit the sin of Lucifer.

    • brianthedad says

      Or, it’s an exercise in showing us the futility of trying to “be good” on our own, to show us how impossible it is to give up the thing we’ve given up for Lent. That even though we may succeed, on the surface, in denying ourselves of the thing we want so much, that we still desire it, and that is the point. Lent shows us we cant do it ourselves, that we do need Him.

      Even though I am not Catholic, I’m so tired of the endless reflexive kicking of Catholics for their so-called frumperies. Disagree at times, yes, but enough already with the Lucifer reference.

      • Thanks, Brian. Soooooo tired of the evangelical crowd with a short memory who seem to forget that Catholic and Christian were synonyms for 1500 years. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in order to pretend that one sprang from the water as a full adult( in total wisdom unknown in other centuries) is as sad as it is untenable.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in order to pretend that one sprang from the water as a full adult( in total wisdom unknown in other centuries) is as sad as it is untenable.

          As well as being the view of church history also used by the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

          To wit: “Jesus Christ founded the One True Church in 33AD, but the New Testament Church immdediately went into Apostasy (Romish Popery) and stayed Apostate False and Satanic until Our Founder Joseph Smith/Charles Taze Russel/Reverend Apostle Billy-Bob Joe Soap Re-established the One True New Testament Church under the direct guidance of God…”

          • You’re quite wrong. The process took many centuries. And if any church elevates the opinions of Billy-Bob Soap above the Bible, then they are just as bad.

        • Brianthedad says

          You’re welcome. As a Lutheran, I’ve heard so many misquotes and misunderstandings of catholic faith, and have repeated them myself at times, that it is just tiresome. After journeying thru the uber conservative church of christ in my teenage years (quite the cage phase I had), I realize how silly I must have sounded spouting the same things I hear from florian. As I said, I don’t always agree with some of the things I hear from my catholic friends, but what’s the point of arguing and getting bent out the frame about it? The Eagles of the world are watching us. If we can’t get a long with each other, why should we expect the unbeliever or those who’ve left to want to join us in God’s family?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I take it Florian is a Born-Again Bible-Believer crusading against Romish Popery? One of the brand of Christianity that messed up my head in the Seventies denouncing the Church that put that head back together in the Nineties? The same Church that 1800 years ago kept the Shirley Mac Laines and Madame Blavastkys of the time from rewriting the Bible in their own image? If it weren’t for them, Florian wouldn’t have a Bible to quote and thump.

      The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648. It is now 2012.

    • Florian, I don’t think you’re going to like it much around here. But you’re welcome to stay, if you can participate in a civil manner. You can start by not equating long-accepted Christian practices with the devil.

      • Just because the CATHOLICS have practiced it for a long time doesn’t make it Christian. In fact it goes against everything the Bible teaches. (Show me where Lent is in the Bible.)

        Catholicism started when the Roman emperors decided “if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em.” They took the name of Jesus, but little else, and turned Christianity into ritualism just like in the heathen religions. But you can’t serve two masters (Christ and the pope). You should all be ashamed of yourselves for lukewarm doctrine. Did we fight the Reformation for nothing?

        I get it that you’re mad at your original churches, but you’re traveling down the wrong path. (Headless Unicorn Guy, it’s a lie of the devil that the original church was Catholic.)

        • …and your Bible came from WHERE????

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Dictated word-for-word by God Himself in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe and dropped down from Heaven directly to Real True Christians, of course.

            Just like the Koran, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!.


          • No, I am not so foolish as to suppose that the Bible was revealed in “Kynge Jaymes Englyshe,” or that it dropped down from heaven like the Koran. But it was not composed or edited by the Catholic Church either. It arose later.

        • Florian, if we start with “Show me where that is in the Bible”, then we’ll have to toss out the doctrine of the Trinity for a starter (show me the chapter and verse where we’re told there are three distinct persons!)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Florian, if we start with “Show me where that is in the Bible”…

            Florian’s playing it right ouf of the Calvary Chapel playbook. I remember radio interviews with Calvary Chapel pastors in the Seventies, where every question or dissent was met with in-your-face demands to “SHOW ME SCRIPTURE! SHOW ME SCRIPTURE! SHOW ME SCRIPTURE!” And since Calvary Chapelites are heavily into Chapter-and-Verse Memorization and Recitiation to the point of duckspeak…

        • Though I do appreciate your nom-de-blog; St. Florian is “the patron saint of Linz, Austria; chimney sweeps; and firefighters. His feast day is May 4. St. Florian is also the patron of Upper Austria, jointly with Saint Leopold.”

          So the name is very appropriate for someone endeavouring to snatch us out of the fires of Hell!

          • Let’s not forget the lovely roadside shrines to St. Florian….”Lord, protect my house from fire, let someone else’s burn down instead.”

            Poor guy. he thinks he is here to save us all, bless his heart!

    • “Lent (along with other Catholic frumperies, like monasticism) represents an attempt by man to get into heaven by his own power and virtue”

      Simply not true. You might as well say that prayer and fasting are attempts to earn our way into heaven. It would be just as accurate.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        You might as well say that prayer and fasting are attempts to earn our way into heaven.

        Or Wretched Urgency Witnessing.

        Or 24/7 Bible Study/SCRIPTURE(TM) Memorization. (The latter also being a point of pride in Extreme Islam.)

    • Jack Heron says

      Why not acknowledge our depravity, ask Christ for forgiveness – AND keep Lent? I keep hearing these false dichotomies, ‘Religion or Relationship’, ‘Personal Saviour or Ritual Prayer’, ‘Bible or Tradition’* and I can’t see any reason for them.

      *or with my Anglican hat on, ‘Catholic or Reformed’!

  5. Lisa… I am nodding my head here, thankful that you can put to words what I cannot. Have such a weight on my chest that I have no words, but thank-you…

  6. I had a visual this morning, not of a fire, but a vice grip.

    I had read these words:

    “Thou has fenced up my ways, made my paths crooked,
    To keep my wand’ring eyes fixed on Thee,
    To make me what I was not, humble, patient;
    To draw my heart from earthly love to Thee.”

    ‘To draw my heart from earthly love to Thee’

    My idol, for most of my life, has been others affirmation and approval. It’s my life bread, how I function, go on, knowing you approve of me, it’s where the definition of me comes from (came from). Well, I haven’t been getting them. *chirp*chirp* So, I freak out! Wondering what I could possibly do to control and change the situation in order to serve my idol well, kinda like I did before I came to Christ. *chirp*chirp* His vice grips are squeezing the idol out of me and there are times I feel He’s taking my very breath. He is relentless with me in His pursuit to ‘draw my heart from earthly love to Thee.’

    Good words Lisa, thank you!

  7. “We are so many wooden Pinnochios harboring secret disdain for the Geppetto who made us and running after false pleasures that deceive as we also deceive.”

    Wow, Lisa. Just wow.

    It is not easy to see how we deceive ourselves because we have spent so many years in that deception. Pray for me and all of us that the fire which MacDonald writes about will burn all that is false within us until we remain safe in the truth that is God.

  8. Joseph (the original) says

    oh Lisa…this is so incredibly transparent & something i can idenfify with. so much so i will need to review, regroup & respond at a later time…

    thanx for the effort to address the elements that you have addressed…


  9. “I pray on the other side of these things I’ll be the true daughter God wants to know.”

    God does know you. And He loves you…as you are. With all your fears and doubts and sin. He love you, Lisa. You are His true daughter…right now.

    I’ll be praying for you and for your husband.

  10. Wow. Thanks for your transparency.

    Recently, while talking to a friend, it came to me this way:

    Asking God to know me is scary (but I do it anyway) because in asking him to know, I am asking him to show…to show me the dark places that I recoil from. And I trust him more now than I ever have with this process – partly because of his personal track record with me and partly because there really is a point when you’ve gone far enough in that it seems to turn back would be such a waste of all the previous journey….

  11. I feel terrible that I’ve missed the conversation tonight, but I had to be away. Reading what everyone has written reminds me of one of my favorite quotes … Plato, I think. “Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” There are many hard battles represented here at the iMonastery, but there is also much kindness. I have experienced God’s kindness to me in the past few weeks through so many people. Sometimes we look for God in miracles and relief of difficulties, but he likes to show up with skin on.

  12. I take comfort in the fact that Moses’ burning bush was not consumed by the fire; and that with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego there was a fourth person with them in the flames. And there is a prayer in those words, for you, Lisa, and for Eagle.

  13. Eagle….your Dad is being prayed for, and you and your family as well. No matter what the pathology report, you are not alone in this….

    (((Lisa)))) Prayers out…..and I really relate to where you are. Brennan Manning calls this false self “The Imposter”, and has some wise words about dealing with this shadow self and all of her (his) unpleasant and loud in-your-face childishness.

  14. Lisa — My family and I are praying for your husband.

  15. I don’t comment much, but my prayers are also with you, Lisa, and with you, Eagle.
    And just as an aside, this Catholic always appreciates your words here, Steve Martin.

  16. humanslug says

    Thanks a lot, Lisa — now I’m going to be stuck for days in a loop of introspection and self-examination. Still, it’ll probably be good for me.
    But seriously, I can relate to what you’re talking about — though it’s not pleasant or comfortable to think about myself and my life in terms like “self-deception” and “delusion.” The brutal truth is that I can be wandering around in a fog of self-deception while putting on a pretty convincing show of being transparent and genuine. Sometimes it’s just a matter of me trying to be transparent and genuine, when I really have no idea what that really is or what it looks like, least of all, how to achieve such a state of being.
    Sometimes, it’s like I’m in that annoying half-awake-half-asleep state — part of me desperately wanting to wake up completely but unable to do so, and part of me content to drift back down into unconscious bliss.
    But every once in a while — usually in unexpected moments and situations of His making, not mine — it seems like I actually do break the surface and suck in a quick breath of life before I sink back under.

  17. Lisa:
    Your story hits me like a ton of bricks.

    I came out of both parents being alcoholics.
    I became the good christian boy who ‘was a new creature in Christ, behold all things are new’ and interpreted that scripture to mean just bury it all (throw all the bags out the car window).

    And in 2006 it all came out as I realized how bitter and angry I was with my mom. The bitterness had eaten like a cancer from the inside. I had covered it with drywall and paint but it did its awful job. And I had to take it to the cross and Jesus told me to forgive and love. Mom and I reconciled in a good way. She died with only me at her side. In her final days she wanted me close to her.

    Thanks for sharing deeply. Peace be with you.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I came out of both parents being alcoholics.
      I became the good christian boy who ‘was a new creature in Christ, behold all things are new’ and interpreted that scripture to mean just bury it all (throw all the bags out the car window).

      And in 2006…

      Reality came back and bit down HARD?

      • Yes, Reality did.
        You can bury these things but they have a way of coming back unless you deal with them. I can see I had never forgiven, never really taken it all to the cross.

        I don’t think true Christianity is easy. When I took that pain to God the answer was simple: ‘forgive’
        I did not want to. How do you forgive someone who does not see they wronged you?

        The roman soldiers were doing their duty that day in Israel. And what did the master say? Forgive them, they know not what they do.

        Once I forgave mom it opened up the way for God to begin a work in her life, and it was through my family and I.

  18. I love IM. I appreciate how real everyone is and how our stories are so very similiar. So many of your names are growing to be familiar to me and Lisa and Eagle, prayers for your loved one and for each of you. I also appreciate the response to those who come in and just want to cause trouble. Some people just like to stir the pot.

  19. Booklover says


    These are some of the most beautiful and true words that I have ever read! Thank you for your honesty and openness.

  20. Belated but thank you for sharing your journey, Lisa. I am on a similar path. May the Lord be with you and your family.

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