(Mears State Park, Michigan)
In the absence of God,
people are left alone to create their identities.
"A persona, in the word everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. This is an Italian word that derives from the Latin for "mask" or "character", derived from the Etruscan word "phersu", with the same meaning. Popular etymology derives the word from Latin "per" meaning "through" and "sonare" meaning "to sound", meaning something in the vein of "that through which the actor speaks", i.e. a mask (early Greek actors wore masks)." (Wikipedia, "Persona")
AKA - the false self; "hypocrite" ("mask-wearer"); fake; phony
The real self; who you really are; the "true self," made in the image of God
Thirty-eight years ago I was sitting on the seat of a rusty tractor in the middle of a field, in a wildlife area, just north of Lansing, Michigan. I went there to pray. For several hours. That was one of the first times I did this kind of extended praying. It turned out to be the beginning of something new God was doing in me.
I was reading Psalm 139. I got to verses 23-24, which read:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
The thought came that I should ask God to do this. To search me out.
My heart was filled with restlessness. All the busy stuff I was doing only seemed to increase my inner agitation. So I said to God, "Do it."
God told me, "John, I would love to. You need to spend much time with me, over a lifetime, so I can search you out, remove your anxious thoughts, and lead you in the way everlasting."
"John, you can take off the persona."
Maintaining a persona is hard work. I did some acting in my college theater department, and it takes a lot out of a person. God told me, "John, I don't care for the mask; it is you that I love." So, before God, I allowed him to peel away the persona and get to me. This is a process, and continues to this day.
It was both hard and good to hear God say those words to me. It was hard, because my persona was something I was accustomed to. To remove the mask was to enter into new territory. It produced, initially, feelings of wanting to hide from God.
It was also good. Looking into the face of my all-loving God, with hidden parts of me exposed, was fear-and-trembling good! It still feels unbelievable. God knows me, God searches me out, God sees to the root of my being, God knows my true heart. And God loves me? Unbelievable, yet true.
When we wear our persona-mask before people we lie to them. In our inner insecurity and unlovableness we posture before people. We brag. We create and display our persona on Facebook. We are pity-filled. We crave human approval, and fear disapproval. We want others to recognize our hotness. We want to be hotter than thou.
This gets subtle, as I know personally. At times my caring for others has been a mask that hides my need for them to approve of me. True personhood, on the other hand, cares and loves others, whether one benefits from this or not.
That... is freedom. To know God and be known by him. To love God and experience God's love towards us, personally. This is not some theoretical thing, but an experiential reality. In this regard experience, not theory, breeds conviction.
You are loved by God. Go to him.
Ask God to search out your heart, remove the persona, and transform you into the person he has created you to be. Which is: in his image.
My two books are
Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.
Leading the Presence-Driven Church
I am now writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.