Life is a long process of discovery—who we are, what we are made to be and do, and what the world is all about. In this week’s reading of Karen Swallow Prior’s Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me for The High Calling book club, I’m appreciating how Prior associates books and reading to this discovery process. Each chapter has a particular book highlighted as she shares her heart and childhood process that has brought her to where she is today.
Chapter 4 features Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (which I have not read but now have added to my must-read list). Prior speaks of one character’s need to have separate selves for work and home, something that is common to us all in some degree:
Modern life is characterized by nothing if not an efficient and practical compartmentalization of its distinct spheres: public and private, sacred and secular, scientific and religious, physical and spiritual. (60)
Such splitting is not meant to be duplicitous. It is a security measure, a form of self-protection. Whatever the situation calls for, we put on that garb to play the part for that role. And we hope that no one ever catches us mid-costume change.
I am reminded of my own struggle to be who I am, which began sometime in late elementary school, I’m sure. But I got stuck in the pattern of fitting in, tucking away certain parts of myself in certain situations to better play the part I thought I was supposed to be playing. I got so good at it, I didn’t really have to try; it was an automatic response that eventually left me wondering who I really was, at the core of me. Did I even know what character traits and preferences were really me and which were props I picked up?
During a certain stretch of my adult life, I wrestled these things out with friends, with books, with counseling, with the Lord. Psalm 86:11–12 became my prayer:
“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”
God did meld together some disparate pieces of my various separate selves, uniting my heart so that I would fear His name. I had been playing to the crowds with all my compartmentalizing, attempting to protect myself from their disapproval. God’s tender correction came with the assurance that He was all the protection I needed for those times when the crowds disapproved of my true self. Love pulls together all the real pieces of who I am, like a mosaic; Love is the grout that holds me together.
Over the past few years, I have been learning to walk in this truth, giving thanks with the wholeness of heart I have so far. And I am trusting God to keep on uniting me, to bring into unity the pieces of me that are still fearing man and using props for protection.