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People must see past their ego to find their true self

Paul Graves

What if being human is more than we human beings usually settle for?

When that is so, I think what we settle for is picking the “low-hanging fruit” on the trees of life all around us. We settle for easy solutions, easy ways to satisfy our wants. After all, we’re “only human.”

That’s a subtle, but effective, dismissal of who we are meant to be.

We are so much more than “only” human. Using “only” is a sad clue that we don’t really think much of being human. That, in turn, is a gigantic slap in the cosmic face of the creator who made us in the first place.

As good a slogan as it is, “Be all you can be” did not originate with the U.S. Army.

Humans have had that goal as long as they have searched for meaning beyond themselves. But too many of our religious beliefs and practices have settled for whatever feeds our egos rather than our souls.

Our egos are a real part of who we are. But only a part! It is too easy to forget that. What we usually struggle with is getting deeper than where our egos live. We are called to go even deeper, where we will find the essence of our humanity. That essence is what many spiritual traditions call our soul.

In the Christian tradition, that soul is where we discover that we really are “children of God.” In 1 John 3:1, it says it like this: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God.”

Deep down inside of us, we find out we are more than only human. But to get to that deep space, we have to let go of so many of the siren calls we hear from our egos. The Rev. Richard Rohr calls the ego our false self. He identifies another self, the true self, that lives in a space much deeper.

The false self is where we live most of the time. It tempts us to create artificial divisions within ourselves, between us and other people, between us and God. God is perceived too often as “out there.” The false self sees life strictly in dualistic, either-or terms.

The true self moves us to see life’s parts as fully connected in some way or another. God is understood to live within us, beyond the deepest inner place we can possibly imagine. God is mystery – not so much to be understood as to be trusted because the good news that we are loved without condition is true – even if it sounds too good to be true.

“I’m only human” too easily denies our deeper humanity. Bishop Desmond Tutu reminds us in his book “No Future Without Forgiveness” that denial betrays our very personhood. Whether we deny our own actions or we let someone deny us our freedom, our personhood is betrayed.

The false self and the true self operate out of very different motivations. The ego denies because of the “fear factor.” The true self has nothing to protect, so it has no need to deny, only to offer compassion and love for another person and God.

There is so much more to being human than we settle for! For Christians, that is called Gospel, the good news. It’s too bad we often let our religion stop us from living that way.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at
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