I recall chuckling upon seeing my first piece published in SuperPosition, and realizing that Sylvia, editor extraordinaire, had decided to categorize it as “Adoration.” I certainly didn’t disagree with the label, but it felt disingenuous, as public displays of praise have always felt to me. They’ve felt disingenuous not for a lack of love for my Creator, or fervency of belief, or flowery language with which to express those; but for the feeling that I am deceiving those around me about the kind of person I really am. Even as I persist in writing about God and his glorious nature, I feel like I am becoming a worshiper because I write articles, not writing articles because I am a worshiper.
And honestly, deeply, I feel a profound incongruence between my abstract status as “one who writes in adoration” and my concrete, corporeal personhood. I feel as though a reader I’ve never met would be inconsolably disappointed by me, and those who know me personally would not believe that this Marlee could worship in this way. You may be in either of those people groups and think me silly for even entertaining the notion, but I’d argue that anyone who doesn’t feel some inadequacy in approaching the Throne has too paltry a perception of their sin.
A skill that we develop as we mature is the ability to sequester our different selves. I’ve moved about ten times in my 21 years, so I got good at this really early. When I moved to a new city, a new school, or a new friend group, I could leave the parts of my self that I didn’t like behind. It’s been quite convenient, and has allowed me to share the messy parts of my personality and relationships in quippy, self-contained anecdotes, instead of living through them with people. I can tell my stories as an onlooker, not as the one who experienced them. And sure, I feel like I have been a dizzying number of different women in the last ten years, but at least each one has been nearer to God than the last. (I further reflect on past selves in “There Is Such Thing as a Tesseract.”)
At its best, this compartmentalization of my past lives makes me fun at parties, with lots of weird and wild stories of homeschoolers’ drama, international mishaps, and Christian relationships gone awry. It’s dangerous, though, because the membrane between selves is thin. When it’s torn, the full truth of how desperately I needed—and still need—God spills into the lap of someone who was just expecting a good time.
I’ll tell you the story that made me realize this. A few years ago, I entertained a relationship that required me to subvert some rules, tell some untruths, and eventually hurt some people I cared about. When I describe it like that, I sound like a cruel, selfish girl—because I was. But at the time, I was able to leave the collateral damage of my thoughtlessness behind, repent on my own, and reframe the story in retrospect. No one in my new compartment knew that cruel girl—and I made sure none of them ever had to. So, imagine my surprise when one of my newer close friends and I ran into that old flame just this week. We were friendly, and the interaction was pleasant. But seeing him irreparably tore the membrane of that old compartment in front of my new friend, and I had to tell her the full account of what I had done. This person I had tried to protect from my past self was suddenly acquainted with her, in all her careless carnage.
I’ve thought for years that the best way to handle my old sin and my old selves was to beef up the membranes between them, add a thick proteoglycan layer, if you will (sorry, I’m in med school). It’s been no use; I find the delicate partition is still easily torn by chance interactions, moments of weakness, and pointed questions. But I was reminded today in church of Joel 2:25:
“I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.”
God assures us in this passage that the years we see as hopelessly lost to sin and destruction, He is working to redeem. It was God who sent the locusts, to reveal to the Israelites their dependence on Him and to demonstrate his capacity of mercy and recompense. That which we, in our human limitation, see as irredeemable, is God’s greatest opportunity for grace.
In light of His redemption, my approach can no longer be to desperately try to construct thicker membranes between me and the sinful selves I seek distance from. No, it must be to tear down any separation altogether. I must admit to myself and others that the cruel girl, the frivolous imp, and the obstinate child are all me, and it is only the miraculous intervention of a redeeming God that leads me to behave any differently. For when I lie about the locusts, I lie about the God who delivered me from them. And to give Him anything but the awe-struck praise He deserves for that deliverance is to commit the most grievous sin of my life.
Maybe you are like me, and on your path to greater sanctification, you keep acknowledgement of your past selves at arm’s length. Maybe you feel an incongruence between the instinct you have to praise and the sinful person you were (and are). But there are no imposters at the mercy seat, and our great high priest is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:14-16). May you and I find amplification of our praise in the acknowledgement of what the locusts have eaten.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. What past selves or experiences do you feel the need to hide from others and from yourself? Why?
2. What is different about revealing who we have been and how God has delivered us time and again?
3. What effect does the latter path–revealing–have on our relationships and our witness?