There have only been a few congregations I served as pastor where I had an actual office outside of our home. It was nice to have a place for work separate from home–it seemed to keep things a bit more organized, at least in my head. The work things that needed to be finished or started or whatever were at the office, instead of sitting somewhere in our home. Mind you, with the invention of laptops, that separation got harder to maintain, since the work was on the same laptop I was using to surf the net or play games.
Anyway, one office I had was particularly well designed, I thought. It was at the corner of the building with one window facing the parking lot and another facing the way people walked to enter the building. I had a perfect view of who was coming into the building. Since I was the only person there except for Sundays and Bible Study night, that normally meant they were coming to see me. As I watched people come in, it was always interesting and revealing to discover how they were feeling as they walked into the building and notice the transformation as they put on their public face when they arrived at my door.
Most of us like to think that we are pretty good at keeping our thoughts and feelings to ourselves. And while some people are pretty good at this, most of us are nowhere as good at as we think we are–and we are not good at it for a very basic reason. We aren’t good at hiding how we feel because in the end, we generally don’t know all that much about what we are feeling and thinking.
The real irony is that when we won’t recognize our own stuff, we are generally broadcasting to the rest of the world a very powerful message about where we are that many others can see. And so when we stick on a public face, it is plastered over a very clear message that keeps poking out of the disguise, which is confusing and perplexing to a lot of people.
As a pastor, I often find myself in the position of seeing the discrepancy between what people are consciously projecting and what is peeking out that they don’t want seen–or don’t know they are feeling. Sometimes, it is appropriate to ignore the discrepancy–when we are supposed to be discussing the schedule of worship services for the next year, seeing the difference between what people show and what is underneath isn’t an appropriate topic. It might be significant and might have an effect on the ease of carrying our out stated task but it generally isn’t wise or necessary to address it then.
Other times, it is important to address it. Since I do some counselling, there are times when it is my job and responsibility to open the issue and help people confront the difference in what they think they are feeling and what they are really feeling. It is often a real surprise to people that they have this whole other set of feelings that that either aren’t conscious of or are sort of aware of and feel slightly guilty about. Ultimately, until people can see and address the deeper, more truthful feelings and realities, there is not much any counselling can do to help people deal with whatever prompted the request for counselling. I sometimes spend a lot of time helping people understand what is going on that they don’t want to acknowledge.
We human beings have an almost infinite capacity for self-deception, a capacity that creates a great deal of trouble for everyone. And along with that ability is an almost universal inability to avoid showing other people not only what we want them to see but also what we don’t want to acknowledge or show but show nonetheless.
Rather than self-knowledge, we are often better at self-denial. This self-denial is not some kind of virtue, however. It is a real and serious problem because it keeps us from really experiencing life, relationships and God. It limits our ability to grow in faith and damages our ability to form healthy relationships with others.
It is much healthier in the end to heave the self-denial thing and discover who we really are. After all, we were created in God’s image so there must be something worthwhile there.
May the peace of God be with you.