When I was in undergraduate school, I took a class in small group dynamics. The class was made up of around 12 persons, and after we had been together for almost a full semester, the professor gave us an unusual assignment. First, she put the names of all of the class members in a hat. She then passed around the hat, and asked us to draw a name. We were instructed not to let anyone see the name we had drawn. Next, she explained that we were to come to class the next day as the person whose name we had chosen. We were to come dressed in a way that was similar to the way that person dressed, and then we were to conduct ourselves during the entire class period in the way that we had seen the other person express him or herself.
I can’t remember who I imitated, but I will always remember what happened to me at the end of the class period. A few minutes before the class was scheduled to close, our teacher stopped us and asked me to identify the person who had been portraying me. After I had made the determination, I was told to keep it to myself until everyone in the class had had a chance to do the same thing. After a period of silence for us to figure out who had mirrored us, we were asked to reveal our answers. She called on me first, and I will never forget the helpless feeling I experienced when I announced to the group that I had no idea who was playing the part of me. “What? You can’t figure out who was you?” “Are you kidding me? You are the most obvious one in the class!” “Think about the gestures each person was making. Surely you see yourself in the hand gestures!” “Can’t you get who is moving her head just like you do?”
I was dumbfounded. Not only was it uncomfortable that I could not easily find myself, it was also a bad feeling to hear that everyone else was very clear on who was playing me. Was it possible that others might know me better than I knew myself? When the person acting as me finally revealed herself, it was a big surprise. I had watched her closely during the entire experiment, but I never recognized myself in what she was saying or doing. According to my classmates, she did a great job of playing me, but I did not pick up on one single clue. This simple exercise has given me much to think about through the years.
If we choose to, we can live lives from a place where we are unaware of who we are and how we interact with others. I believe it is possible to pull that off. Unfortunately, when we do live lives of self-unawareness, it is likely that we will interact with others in damaging ways that we do not intend. While that might be an acceptable way to live for some people, those of us who follow Jesus Christ know that we’re called to a richer, deeper life experience with ourselves and with each other. Time and time again, Jesus invites us to look at the way we treat others and to understand that our response to others is directly tied to our response to God. In other words, the way we love others is a direct reflection of the way we love God, and I believe, the way we love and accept ourselves. If we know that part of honoring God is to honor each other which involves loving self, then it stands to reason that we need to put some work into understanding, forgiving and challenging ourselves.
Knowing that I need and want to have the most accurate self-portrait that I can have, Lent is a wonderful time for me. It puts a framework around my decision to do the hard work of digging deeply, with God’s help, to uncover the issues and relationships that may be causing me not to live life as abundantly as God desires. Knowing that I travel with other Christians as we stick with the tough moments on our journey to the cross so that we can enjoy resurrection later gives me great hope and comfort. If I felt alone in this quest for self-awareness, I doubt that I would be able to stay with it. It would be too hard. Even if I don’t reveal to others what I am discovering, traveling together helps me to stay motivated. It also never ceases to amaze me how God responds with light as soon as I venture into dark places that are previously unexplored. Often I end up feeling great joy and energy instead of dragged down and defeated.
I end up saying this every Lent, but if you have not started your Lenten practice yet, it is not too late. Consider offering God access to a part of yourself that you are hiding. The God we worship is the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead! What life might God be able to bring to the dead places in us? I wonder. I can’t wait to find out!
Love and blessings, LuAnn