The spiritual journey entails the transformation of so many parts of our lives, not the least being the movement from our old self to our new self; or the false self to the true.
One of the earliest experiences that catapulted me into an intentional process of transformation occurred while I was a young leader serving in a para-church organization that was predominantly led by men. Many of these men were pastors who grappled with how to interact with me as a bona fide leader, and not someone in a support role, which was more typical for women in this organization. Looking back, I must say it was a system that resisted women’s full inclusion into leadership.
During my time as head of one of the core ministries for this organization, I remember one incident in particular. I was sitting around a table working to resolve a conflict with one of the pastors of this organization and members of my staff. Apparently I spoke too assertively and passionately on behalf of my organization, and the pastor looked at me and said in a patronizing tone, “Now Sister Porter, you want your pastor to be proud of you, don’t you?” He had mistaken my directness for disrespect and put me in my place with the implicit threat to tell my own local church pastor that I had gotten out of line. I could not articulate the effect of his words on me then, but I felt them in the gut of my stomach. His reprimand surprised and silenced me—and in effect knocked me from my legitimate leadership place as one deserving of equal voice around a problem-solving table to that of a little girl being warned to not be too forward.
That’s patriarchy at its worst, and I was getting tired and sensed a need for change.
A series of events led to me making a crucial decision that was to free me and set me on a course of soul-searching, deepening my own formation and healing. At the end of my term in that leadership role, I chose not to continue with that ministry. I chose to walk away from it all in order to be free. Sometimes you’ve got to walk away in order to walk toward your destiny.
I’ll be honest. Part of me wanted to hold on to the what I then saw as the trappings of title, office and privilege, but more of me wanted to be free. I wanted to be the me I was supposed to be—the me I was meant to be.
Too often many of us struggle with the “me” others expect us to be, and that “me” can often be in tension with the “me” God meant for us to be. Part of our journey of transformation is to grow into the “me” each of us was meant to be— authentic, purposeful, free.
Instead too many of us are forced to don “masks” to project the “me” others expect. For too long I carried the “compliant woman,” “good girl” persona that caused me for too long to collude with the silencing of my true self in church and corporate leadership.
Unfortunately more often than not, that “me” that others expected was not the real me, but instead was hiding behind a mask, and was subject to the whims and fancies of others. That me was insecure and less confident.
The masks that we put on to project and protect ourselves can be defined as the established persona for how each of us interacts in the world. It is the persona through which we see ourselves, understand others, and live out our lives. These masks protect our vulnerable places and hide our true self. They start out from expectations placed on us from others and end up being expectations we heap on ourselves.
Albert Haas, author of Coming Home to the True Self identifies the empty P’s of the false or “masked” self. I’ve adapted them for this article:
• Some of us put on the People Pleasing mask in order to get people to like us. • Some hide behind the Power & Prestige mask in order to project the image of a person wielding authority and control. The world acclaims powerful people. • Some hide behind the life of the party mask, Ms. or Mr. Popularity in order to attract friends and be seen as part of the in-crowd. • Some hide behind the mask of Performance—their identity is based in what they do and not who they are. • Some amass great “Possessions” and get identified with their high-priced trinkets and toys. • Some hide behind the mask of being the Perfect wife, mother, leader, husband, or son. • Some only show their Pious, holy face and never show the raw emotions beneath the surface.
Julie L. Slattery , author of “Beyond the Masquerade,” says wearing the masks of the false self-serve(d) to help us cope. Masks project an image we want to portray. Masks protect a part of us we wan to hid or protect.” I get that. My concern is that some of us have worn the masks for so long, we forget we are wearing them and begin to believe our own lies.
In fact Dr. Slattery goes on to say that these masks prevent us from experiencing intimacy with God; they prevent us from pleasing God (including living out our true calling). And masks prevent us from experiencing intimacy in relationship with others.
A Vision of the Me God Intended
After years of wearing masks to live out the expectations of others, whether in the church or in the corporate arena, I’ve come to accept that the me God intended is in a process of ever becoming and growing. I’ve also come to realize there is not one label that quite defines who I am in these arenas and it isn’t helpful when others try to force labels on me. That’s their way of placing their preferred mask upon me. For instance because I am both minster and organizational consultant, serving in both the church and corporations, some label me as bi-vocational minster, but I have come to see that bifurcated title is no longer useful for describing the fullness of my calling.
Here’s what I know. The “me” I am supposed to be is God’s masterpiece (Eph 2:1). The me God intended can be transparent before God (Psalm 139:1-3). The me God intended is made fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139:13-14). The me God intended walks in the path of purpose or my God-directed good works or deed (Eph 2:10) wherever that path may lead.
Admittedly, it has taken a long journey for the “real” me to shine, and for me to get comfortable with my true self being on display. I was concerned with church folks not thinking I was Christian enough (you know, like good Christian women don’t argue, don’t speak up) or that corporate folks wouldn’t think I was business savvy enough (after a great deal of my early leadership experiences were gained in the church).
Here’s some steps that helped me on this journey of transformation.
Recognized the need for change—something happens deep within the soul of a person who is ready to be free of the masks, the persona, the false expectation of others. That rumbling in the spirit is a cue that a new “me” is ready to be birthed, and in need of a midwife. Respond when the time to change comes.
Listened to the wisdom of transformative people. Transformative people are those wise women and men that are in our lives that see the struggles we are experiencing trying to live a life that was not meant to be ours. They don’t heap expectations on us, they speak truth. It’s like this quote by Dr Steve Maraboli that I saw on Instagram, “I find the best way to love someone is not to change them, but instead, help them reveal the greatest version of themselves.” I have had the support and guidance of wise women and men down through years, and pray that I am now providing that transforming support to my mentors and through my writings and teaching.
Chose to walk in truth. Choosing to be free of the false self is a process. And for most of us it’s a life long journey. But daily make the choice to walk in truth. One social scientist said that knowledge is the predicate of social transformation. I say truth is the predicate of personal transformation. Truth is sobering. Liberating. A necessary condition for transformation.
If you are feeling bound to false expectations heaped upon you, you know too well that the chains of lies wont simply go away. The Greek word from which we get transformation is meta-morphoo. Metamorphosis—the word used to describe the change of a caterpillar to a butterfly –-is derived from this same word. Just as the caterpillar experiences its transformation inside a cocoon, so our transformation begins with an inner change. We will need to change our thinking about ourselves and others. We will need a change of heart so we can believe that we can become the me each of us was meant to be. We will need a change in our attitude and perspectives.
Every one of us must come to grips with God’s transforming work inside. When I left that ministry leadership position, I took the first step of what was to become a profound personal transformation that brought me ultimately to this juncture of my journey.
Becoming the “me” you were meant to be starts with your innermost self. Becoming the “me” you were meant to be doesn’t start with investing in a business wardrobe or changing your hairstyle to suit up appropriately. Becoming the “me” you were meant to be doesn’t start with acquiring an impressive title or the corner office suite. Becoming the “me” you were meant to be does not start with climbing the corporate ladder only to find the ladder affixed to the wrong wall.
Becoming the “me” you were meant to be is about mustering up the courage to walk your God-given destiny path, in orders that others may follow the light of integrity that emanates from within you.
© 2014 Jeanne Porter King