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The Dangers of Self-Editing

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).

Closing the Gap on Who I Really Am and Who I Present Myself to Be

Over the past several days, I’ve been thinking about a comment made by a friend of mine who has been married for nearly two decades. She told me that her husband has confessed more sin in the past few months than during the previous twenty years of marriage. What is truly amazing about this is how virtually everyone around them has “checked the box” as far as accepting them as the “normal” or acceptable example of the Christian life. This couple has passed the “test” to the point where they are models for the Christian community at large. There is no doubt that this husband and wife love the Savior and have sought to please him by their life, yet there is a problem.

The problem is not on the surface where you can typically see hypocrisy. They don’t appear to be hypocrites at all. And in one sense, they’re not. Therefore, to unearth this issue, we must drill down to the causal core of who they really are. Luke 6:43-45 gives us some insight on why we should drill down to where the action really is:

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

In my reflection upon them, I do not see these hidden issues as being exclusive to this couple; this is my story as well. I am the biggest sinner I know. But I would assert that neither of our families is actively seeking to live the life of a hypocrite. But with more reflection I’m sure at some level we both are living out some form of charade without realizing the awful ramifications of such a lifestyle.

Drilling Down to the Core

I believe that one of the major relational deficiencies in our lives is that no one is drilling down to the causal core of our hearts and marriages by asking insightful and probing questions. While the level that truly matters is our hearts and our character, there sometimes seems to be an unspoken agreement that others should not be so intrusive into that stratum. In the back of our minds we may know something is amiss, but we don’t discuss it. And if we do recognize that a dynamic is lacking in our relationships, we choose not to dwell on the implications of this lack. We continue to live our lives at our frenetic and blinded pace.

In short, we opt to marginalize the essence of true, biblical friendship. This unspoken agreement to accept each-other’s lives at surface value allows us to live within the societal norms of hypocrisy, enjoying one-another’s company and approving the “I’ll check your box if you check my box” approach to living. None of this is verbalized, of course; it is the “unsaid” that contributes to this kind of sub-Christian existence.

The Story of My Heart

Recently, I was sharing with a client how this scenario has manifested itself in my own life. I was motivated to enter the workforce as a twelve year old because of a survival mentality that existed in our home. At that time, we were on food stamps and welfare while living just above the poverty line. In addition, my dad was very abusive verbally and possessed a penchant for alcohol, which absorbed a good part of our family’s income. The “environmental” factors of our home life and my father’s sin issues, along with my own personal sin, created a craving in my soul for attention and approval from someone, from anyone. When I entered the workforce to get out of the home, I worked very hard and was praised and rewarded for my efforts. Furthermore, I was paid; I was a twelve year-old earning a living! My internal craving for affirmation was being satisfied. The more applause I received, the harder I worked; the harder I worked, the more praise I received. It was a closed, endless-looped system: I worked, they praised; they praised, and I worked. I was getting my desires met, and all I had to do was perform with a hearty work ethic.

The story gets worse. When I became a Christian, I went into the church and realized that I not only had an intense work ethic, but I also possessed the ability to understand and communicate spiritual truth. This was another unguarded strength that, because it was unguarded, became a double weakness to me. In short, the church became a place where I could earn the applause of people. My approval drive was being tickled, and it felt good. For a person in shoes like mine, the natural rationale was to seek vocational ministry. Therefore, carried on the wave of fan support and a desire to be accepted and appreciated, I entered the ministry.

Caveat: These thoughts regarding my motives never entered my mind at the time. It never occurred to me to think about “motive” for ministry. I loved God. He loved me. My friends said I was called. What could be wrong with that? If anyone had a problem with this process, they never said so.

And the beat went on, as did my cravings for attention. In retrospect, I see these cravings as insatiable. And because they could not be satisfied I became a slave to them. This kind of bondage spoils all that is in its path. Regrettably, the first people to be hurt were my immediate family. My craving for significance and my hearty work ethic led to familial neglect.

All my friends sitting in the bleachers checked the box on my life: I was good. I was married; I had 2.5 children; I was a gainfully employed Christian heading into ministry; I had 3.42 acres of land—check, check, check and check. No one was examining my character, my heart motives, my cravings, my conflicts, or the unedited me. Everyone saw only the edited version of my life, and it appeared to be okay. However, the reason the edited version was acceptable was because it was carefully censored, and folks saw only what I wanted them to see. And to make matters worse I was blind to the real me. They were not speaking into my life at a level that mattered and I didn’t know how deceived I really was.

Seeing the Unedited Me

The real issues of life flow from the heart; the heart is the causal core of who I really am, that part of me that cannot be easily detected (see Proverbs 4:23). Praise be to God that I now live in a context where the unedited me is being discovered. The gap between the real me and the edited me is closing. I am experiencing biblical friendship, which goes into those secret places of the heart. The box is not being checked too quickly, and good questions are being asked. Behavior is being examined for motive. I’m not graded on a curve anymore. People care what is happening at the causal core, and they have the insight, compassion, wisdom, grace, love and courage to go deeper. The obvious is not good enough for them; it’s the secret places that need to be drawn out.

In recent years, God has brought me biblical friends who refuse to just check the box on my life. They also demand that I do not check their boxes too quickly, either. We get into one-another’s lives to serve one-another, which is the essence of the Gospel: Christ came to penetrate our lives in order to radically change our lives. He was not satisfied with how we were. Christ would never check the box; He would obliterate the box and make us anew.

Here is a helpful quote regarding the dangers of self-editing:

“It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are 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)

  • Comments on: The Dangers of Self-Editing
    1. cblythsr

      The issue of self editing is akin to a train on a track pulling cars full of baggage that it has accumulated along the way.
      With introspection, admission of sin, confession and forgiveness we can see the baggage laden cars disappear from our track, however, the baggage car that is closest to the engine contains elements of our lessons learned.
      Self editing can lead to hopelessness and depression rather than the ‘highly edited version’ mentioned by Buechner. I have experienced this personally and found that when I see myself as I really am and know how worthless I am without Jesus running things through me, my life slows down as I lose focus.
      Next, I lose interest in bible study, ministry, the desire for fellowship, the desire to do anything much, and daily reading of God’s Word goes by the board too.
      As a senior adult with a ministry to teenagers that spans almost fifty years, it becomes more difficult to recover from this introspection depression.
      My life long habit of daily bible reading and studying is the only way out of this depressed state, because not reading God’s Word creates a strain on the intimate relationship that I have with the Holy Spirit and eventually the desire to holy intimacy with Him draws me away from the world’s issues and back into a loving fellowship with my Lord and Leader.
      So I say all this as a warning to any of us trying to avoid being someone we are not, while attempting to avoid becoming the person that others assume we are.

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