I’m enjoying Benner as I continue to read through of his books. I love his identity centered, practical, devotional approach to transformation. I’ve just finished his The Gift of Being Yourself. It’s as basic an introduction as you will find to the issues involved in dispelling the lies of the false self and embracing the self-in-Christ. I especially appreciate his hyphenated “self-in-Christ.” It describes our true God-given identity as distinguished from every possible man-made alternative or false self. Hyphenating it identifies us with Christ absolutely as a single experience of one’s self in Christ and prevents us from mistakenly thinking our true identity may in any sense be formed antecedent to Christ while being only finally confirmed or completed in Christ, when in fact it is from beginning to end his creation. Here’s a bit of Benner:
Christian spirituality has a great deal to do with the self, not just with God. The goal of the spiritual journey is the transformation of self. As we shall see, this requires knowing both our self and God. Both are necessary if we are to discover our true identity as those who are “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17), because the self is where we meet God. Both are also necessary if we are to live out the uniqueness of our vocation.
In all of creation, identity is a challenge only for humans. A tulip knows exactly what it is. It is never tempted by false ways of being. Nor does it face complicated decisions in the process of becoming. So it is with dogs, rocks, trees, starts, amoebas, electrons and all other things. All give glory to God by being exactly what they are. For in being what God means them to be, they are obeying him. Humans, however, encounter a more challenging existence. We think. We consider options. We decide. We act. We doubt. Simple being is tremendously difficult to achieve and fully authentic being is extremely rare.
Body and soul contain thousands of possibilities out of which you can build many identities. But in only one of these will you find your true self that has been hidden in Christ from all eternity. Only in one with you discover your unique vocation and deepest fulfillment. But as Dag Hammarskjold argues, you will never find this “until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your I.
We all live searching for that one possible way of being that carries with it the gift of authenticity. We are most conscious of this search for identity during adolescence, when it takes from stage. At this stage of life we try on identities like clothing, looking for a style of being that fits with how we want to be seen. But even long after adolescence has passed, most adults know the occasional feeling of being a fraud—a sense of being not what they pretend to be but rather precisely what they pretend not to be. With a little reflection, most of us can become aware of masks that we first adopted as strategies to avoid feelings of vulnerability but that have become parts of our social self. Tragically, we settle easily for pretense, and a truly authentic self often seems illusory.
There is, however, a way of being for each of us that is as natural and deeply congruent as the life of a tulip. Beneath the roles and masks lies a possibility of a self that is as unique as a snowflake. It is an originality that has existed since God first loved us into existence. Our true self-in-Christ is the only self that will support authenticity. It and it alone provides an identity that is eternal.
Without complaint do flowers bloom;
They need not contemplate to groom
The fields and forest floors.
From first to last their path is rest,
Without striving for the best,
Their paths are heaven’s doors.
But we a higher calling know,
Deliberate we must to grow;
Deny nature we can.
But when like flowers of the field,
We rest in Christ and to him yield,
We are fully human.