The truth shall set you free

In ministry and in my personal life I’m confronted again and again by these gospel words, and every time I find them just as challenging.
Perhaps it’s because on some level of wishful thinking I believe that if only I really did have all the facts I would be able to make all the right choices, and pick my way better through the minefield of small and large decisions (and their consequences)  that face me, as they do us all, each day. Maybe it’s because I so often find myself dealing with people’s expectations that I will know what to do, that I’ll have access to some crucial wisdom or insight. Maybe it’s because I’ve almost started believing that this might be the case?
But most of all think it’s because, while I’ve always told myself and others that I value my doubts, and that uncertainty is ok, even healthy, there is some part of me that wants to know the whole truth about myself. I want to know what my motivations really are, whether my memories of things I’ve done and things that have been done to me or for me are as inaccurate and subjective as I fear they are. I want to be able to be wholly honest about who I am, and what I am. I want to be able to see myself as I really am, so that I can smile at the good and repent of the evil, safe in the knowledge that there’s nothing I have missed.
Can any of us ever really become that self aware? Is it possible to dig deep enough to find a truth that is beyond the scope of our self-deception?
When I was at school, I clearly remember an incident when someone had flushed paper towels down the loo and the whole school was kept in detention after assembly until the guilty pupil would own up. It only took about two minutes for me to convince myself that it had been me, even though I also knew in my mind that I was innocent. But equally there are other times in my life where I have been guilty as hell, and I’ve instead told myself lies about mitigating circumstances and how it wasn’t really as bad as it looked, until I’ve ended up believing my own spin. How hard it is to recover truth once we’ve started the process of lying to ourselves!
Reaching truth is like peeling a many-layered onion, we can peel off each painful tearful layer thinking that we’ve finally got to the centre, only to find another layer and another round of tears. Is there ever a point where it’s right to stop, when to go further would be ‘too much truth’? Or if we find that the layer we have reached is not, in fact, setting us free at all, have we rather not gone deep enough?
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C S Lewis writes of an incident in which a rather unpleasant child is turned into a dragon, and while he desperately wants to scratch off the scaly dragon skin to rediscover his human self, each time he does so there is another layer of scales beneath. He simply cannot scratch deeply enough to reach who he really is. He is finally helped by the lion, Aslan, whose claws are sharper and longer, and who scratches so deeply that when the Dragon skin finally cones off the boy feels small and vulnerable, and the sensation of the fresh water on this skin as the lion throws him in a pool nearby is painful for an instant. But he is himself again. Or is he? For the child who emerges from this ordeal is not the same as the one who turned into the Dragon; he has been reborn, and the child he is now is less the spoiled, objectionable brat that he was before and is closer to being the human being that God created him to be. When Aslan strips off the Dragon skin, he also strips off some of the other layers of the boy that were also not part of who he was created to be. In the search for himself, the boy found Aslan – God- and also found a different self from the one he expected to get back.
For St Augustine, the quest for truth about himself was inextricably bound up with what turned out to be a quest for God, as he related in his autobiographical Confessions. For he discovered that ‘You were within me, but I was outside myself’ – that it was impossible to know the truth about himself without learning to see himself in the context of God. It’s a sort of theocentric anthropology.
I want to see myself as God sees me, but even having got as far as that realisation is not enough to enable me actually to do so. I am left with the only viable option being to pray continually to the only one who can really see me, in all my happy successes and dismal failings, and still love me, and ask him to keep on transforming me, whether I notice or not, and even if I might sometimes object to the pain of the process.
Will I ever in this life know the whole truth about myself? I don’t think so. But God does. And he is working on me. And maybe that will have to do.

3 thoughts on “The truth shall set you free

  1. Thank you so much for this wisdom – and wisdom it surley is. You are a very wise lady, brave to share your honesty and insights but truthful thoughts.We are never the same once the lion has scratched away so deeply, somethimes we dont even realise how deeply! We only know in our own hearts the change within and then gradually it begins to manifest itself in our outer world and is reflected to those around us. Do not doubt yourself Ally, we need to find the strength only found in God to live the newself and its only fully seen by the Trinity. Onions have so much to teach us -once the skin comes off sometimes there are tears ! but onions make a meal so tasty – and are the basis of most really good meals – lets love onions and the reflection they bring to us of the Triune God

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