The year was 1983, and I was beginning a path to the great future I have always believed was ahead. Finally on the path to actually complete my education, I was home for Christmas break. I had no way to know that the “I” who came home was not the “I” who would return to finish my degree. I died that year.
I had already had one radical turn of events years earlier, when my avowed “I don’t believe in God” heart, in a moment, surrendered to God’s love. I was born again, five years earlier, also around Christmas time.
Entering the family of God had been a great move for me. I was lonely, and my family had been disintegrating. I certainly had no “in” at school. I had no pedigree, and I had no confidence. Insecurity walked me down the halls everyday.
These new friends, these Christians, they liked me, and even seemed to believe I was somebody. So I bought it. I began to act like who they told me I was. It wasn’t long, before I birthed this new persona. This new guy looked like a combination of all my favorite traits of this new crowd. And best of all, it worked for me. More people noticed me. More people said nice things about me. It became the nicest vicious circle I have ever lived. I faked it, they liked me. They liked me, I faked it more.
It wasn’t totally fake. It was as real as I was able to manufacture out of my own personhood. It was working pretty well, until Christmas break 1983. Someone called me out. Showed me I was faking it.
Once you see something, it is difficult (though not impossible for humans) to un-see. Once the truth has been told, denial is three times harder to regain. Maybe more. Square in my eyes, I knew it was true. I was trying to prove to the world that I was myself. Or, at least whoever I thought I was.
The light had hit me, and I was exposed. I wasn’t misbehaving, I just wasn’t real. False confidence felt better than true insecurity. Until I saw that it was false.
I was still a bit stunned as I returned to my little Christian school in West Texas. I had been there long enough to show the false guy to most of my student body. They liked him too. In fact, they promoted him and told others what a great guy he was. Dang that felt good. It would have been nice to go back to that. But to go back to that, I would have to go back to the fake guy.
Even more difficult, I wasn’t really sure how to become another guy. The only thing I knew was how to manufacture something else, and that seemed like the thing that had gotten me in trouble.
So I just went back and stopped pretending. I stopped giving oxygen and food to that guy, and he began to die. Dang it was a slow death. And frustratingly this dying was undoing all the good that the dying guy had been doing for me.
People liked the other guy, they wanted this guy to cheer up. It is hard to cheer up as you die.
One of them was kind enough to let me know that Christians were not supposed to be so down all the time. All I knew was that I was committed to a path of not reviving the dying guy. If I was going to be somebody, God was going to have to make me somebody.
I told my friend that I had seen that I was a fake, and that underneath my false self was all this insecurity and fear, and weakness. They told me that if I keep dwelling on that stuff it would kill me.
That’s when I realized I was dying, and that I was supposed to be dying. I had tried to “reckon myself dead” before like the Bible said, but all I ended up with was a bunch of repressed desires and a false front. Now I was just dying, and waiting for God to make me alive again. Several months later, I began to feel a spark of life that did not come from me. I began to breathe again, and bit by bit, Joy returned. This time, I was not manufacturing it. God was putting new life in me.
I was glad I went through that in 1983. I have told people for years that I died to myself back then.
The year is 2012 and I am well down the path toward the great future that I have always believed is ahead. I had no idea that the “I” who began this year would not be the “I” who finishes it. Bear with me, I might not look like a good Christian for a while.