One weekend that fall, I went back to UNC to visit some old friends--it was oasis-like: laughter, re-telling old stories, inside jokes, and new memories.
I was sharing this with my supervisor afterward, Kim Green, and she made a comment that has stuck with me for fourteen years: "It's great to be with the kind of friends that allow you to forget yourself."
This struck me because of course I've grown up in a culture that says it's about finding and expressing yourself, not forgetting yourself. In fact, I would have said that I was finally around people who allowed me to be myself.
But the reality is that her description was much more true. In the stress of my first semester in ministry, I was super-self-conscious. I was hyper aware of how I was or wasn't fitting in, how I was or wasn't being successful.
And it was, indeed, a tremendous gift to forget myself for a weekend and just be with people who I loved and who I knew loved me.
Several years ago Apple developed a personal MP-3 player to give the old Sony Walkman a much-needed face-lift. They called it the Ipod. And ever since the explosive success of the portable music player, Apple and everyone else has spent a small fortune finding new accessories that they can sell us that are all about the "I," from Ipads to Iphones to ILife to ICal.
It's all about tending to the very hungry "I" that strangely seldom experiences true satisfaction for very long. In our overly-self-conscious age where image is everything, the I must be tended to and worshiped.
We cannot forget ourselves, even if it would be good for our souls. It's not good for business.
I was thinking about all of this yesterday as I came across this excerpt from a story by George MacDonald:
I sickened at the sight of Myself; how should I ever get rid of the demon? The same instant I saw the one escape: I must offer it back to its source--commit it to Him who made it. I must live no more from it but from the source of it; seek to know nothing more of it than He gave me to know by His presence therein...Elsewhere MacDonald writes that God has given us a self in order that we might have something to offer back to God.
What flashes of self-consciousness might cross me, should be God's gift, not of my seeking, and offered again to Him in every new self-sacrifice.
As I was praying over these thoughts in my journal later that morning, I considered an image of my kids at the state fair. They love the rides. When the gate-keeper at the ride opens that door to let them in, they thoughtlessly hand over the three tickets on their way through for the joy set before them.
What if my heart and mind and imagination were so fixed on the joy of the Land of the Trinity that I would gladly and heedlessly hand over this "self" on the way in? You mean all I have to do is check this coat at the door in order that I might roam free in the vast, undiscovered continents of grace and love and beauty and truth and wonder? Why would I even hesitate?
But of course, I do hesitate. The appetites of the self speak loudly and I wrestle with fears and anxieties and pride and desires. Some of these have kernels of God-given-stuff to them. Others are destructive and evil and must be killed off altogether.
There's a gift in God's invitation to die to ourselves daily. The demands of the self make for a poor life-compass. I spend too much time obeying my thirst rather than obeying God. My life is the poorer for it.
My prayer, then, is that this thing God has given me called the self might be released into his care. That I might entrust all of it to Him. And in so doing, all of me might be raised back up into newness of life where I forget myself for much of the time, delightedly so, and tend to myself only as the Lord would direct me.