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Why do Christians still struggle? – the confessions of an impostor

Last Updated: June 9, 2015

Rick Thomas
Rick Thomas

Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.  In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and in 1991 he earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling from The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a  Fellow with Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).

To paraphrase Braveheart, the perfect man is a Warrior / Poet. This is a simplistic way of getting at a good definition for biblical manhood. The warrior is bold as a lion, courageous, braced, protecting, secure, and undaunted by the roughness of the journey. The good warrior is also a man of character, integrity, respect, honor and, above all else, humility. The poet, on the other hand, is compassionate, tender, loving, spontaneous, vulnerable, adaptable and, well, above all else, humble.

Oh yeah, he also laughs a lot.

This is a good working model for the Christian male. The only man born of woman who has this perfect balance is Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, he is our model for biblical masculinity. He was fierce as a lion and tender as a lamb. He confronted what needed to be confronted (Matthew 23) and wept with those who needed compassion (John 11). He seamlessly moved in and out of situations perfectly, walking in a manner that pleased the Father, while drawing people to him in order that he could serve them (Mark 10:4).

Once a person is converted to the Christ-life and begins living in the good of the gospel, a growing process toward this kind of God-glorifying humanness begins. Christ is the glorious physical expression of who God is; he is the image I am to imitate; he is the Life and the Light and that Light is the Light of men (John 1). At salvation he hooks his light to us and the darkness begins to scatter.

Christ is logical. He makes sense. He rewrites the wrong. He brings order to chaos; a new man is born when the former old man accepts Christ.

There is an implication here and it has to do with my angst, my true self and, therefore, my heart struggle. You ask, “What do you struggle with?” Allow me to be vulnerable: I’m not Christ. My life does not make sense all the time. I have remaining, lingering chaos in my soul. Simply put, there is tension in my soul between what is right and what is wrong, and sometimes I choose the wrong.

And you say, “But if you have embraced the Christ-life, why the struggle?”

At the risk of exposing myself for what I am, I will tell you: I’m an impostor. I would love to be consistent, complete and non-dualistic. I would love to live in an authentic kind of biblical manhood way, inside and out, rather than living in some kind of dualistic humanness. I do wonder sometimes if this is true for others.

Do you think this is true for most for us:

  • Aren’t we all impostors to varying degrees?
  • Isn’t it true that our inner thoughts, doubts, and condemning accusations are a bit different from the way we present ourselves to others?
  • Don’t we often live in some sort of surreal double world, oscillating between what we are and what we want to be?
  • In our most fluid and right moments don’t we at times flounder?
  • Isn’t there a gap between who we know we are and the carefully edited version we put forth in order to be liked?

“It is important to tell, at least from time to time, the secret of who we truly and fully are–even if we tell it only to ourselves–because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.” –Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, P. 3.

I wonder if most people who are in search of their ideal of success, whether it is biblically right or not, typically resign themselves to a lesser life of false “lovers” that can never completely satisfy. False lovers are our “God-replacements” that we hope will fill the seemingly insatiable and un-scattered darkness of the soul.

In such cases we are tempted to heap many false lovers upon ourselves as we search for this missing piece. For example, the pornographer is an impostor who has resigned his life to lurking in the shadows, in an attempt to create a world he can control. It is his world, where he can control the knobs and make the ladies answer his most searching questions. These ladies make him feel good about himself. He writes the script and tells them what to say, and they say what he wants to hear. It is the perfect fantasy world: total control, private and pleasurable. But it is not the real world, the world he must contend with day to day. Therefore he is living, battling and standing and falling in both worlds. He becomes a poser in both. In his fantasy world he has created an image of himself that he wants to believe, but it is not real. And in his real world he puts forth a carefully crafted image of who he wants others to think him to be. At some level he is lost in both worlds.

Marriage can be another attempt to find a false lover to bring us our most coveted longings in life. This false lover comes in the form of someone who gives me attention and makes me feel good about myself. My false lover praises me, exalts me and fills my always craving but never full love cup. “She thinks me to be a man! She makes me feel good about myself.” This poser, who is typically frustrated and overwhelmed by life, will first seek out his wife to fill his cup. If that doesn’t work, he contrives other schemes in order to find something that makes him feel good in a bad world. This man is all about himself. He is not only a poser, but a user. He uses people and things to create a mirage that at times lifts him to his created pseudo-reality just long enough to help him forget the mediocrity and drudgery of life. This life works well, up to a point, which is typically when the other spouse realizes she is a God-replacement. She prayerfully hopes (sometimes not so prayerfully or God-pleasing) that he’ll realize that marriage is not what you get out of it, but what you put into it. His selfish fantasy world has collided with reality.

Work is one of our more common false lovers, particularly among men. (Many moms would find their children in a similar category of false lovers.) Men tend to gravitate toward their raw strengths and natural abilities in hopes that it will propel them toward their niche in life. And when they find their niche they praise God for his provision. This unguarded strength can be a double weakness. We can be self-deceived. We give God the glory for his provision and now our unguarded cravings are masked and off we go into a full-orbed workaholic lifestyle. We justify this because, as we say, God gave us the job and we’re good at it. At the end of the day, our work fills our desire for greatness, because our home life does not. But we know it’s filling a false-self. It’s a self that is craving respect, acceptance, significance and more. We know in our innermost being that we are still trying to escape this low-grade awareness that something is ringing hollow in the soul.

Hopefully, at some point in our lives, we recognize that our pursuits were not necessarily wrong pursuits, but only in the wrong direction. We had the right information—there is something wrong with me—but we took off the wrong way. We were trying to connect to the wrong thing. God wants us to be connected, but typically not in a way that we think. Jesus is anti-cultural. Truthfully, he is supra-cultural. Rather than choosing God, we selected false lovers or God-replacements and created a dualistic false-self in place of the person God wants us to be. We became impostors, something like a fish on the bank, alive, but extracted from its life-source. The fish is lost, confused, dangling, flopping, searching, while losing hope for what is really life-sustaining. He needs water! We need God! Jeremiah put it another way when he said, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

We have desires but few clues as to how to get to the right place. We dabble here and dabble there. We begin to cut paths in our mind. It is a trail blazed without a compass. In time, it becomes comfortable. We now have habits. Like the examples above, we create a world and have convinced ourselves that this is the real me. The path we carved, however, is fraudulent. It works. But it doesn’t really work; because it is not authentic. We are not the people God intended us to be.

In God alone, we find reality. He alone is the answer to our most penetrating questions. He is the warrior/poet and we are made in His image. Therefore, when the heart of man is riveted to the heart of God there will be true rest for the soul.

If you feel yourself in this perplexing place between two worlds and do not know how to get out, let me encourage you to find help. Find a friend. Do not try to extricate yourself from this alone. If you are part of a local church, then go to your small group leader or pastor. Let them serve you. Go to them. Ask!

If I can serve you in any way, please let me know. The gospel is the answer, but sometimes we need to encourage one another in how to live in the good of the gospel. Please seek out a friend.