As the teaching pastor of a local church for nearly five years now, I find myself repeating certain phrases or going back to various word pictures over and over again depending on the week’s message. And since our church is highly focused on the work (and word) of reconciliation, one of the oft-kicked around phrases is “working our way back to the garden.”
In saying this, what we mean to express is that we were meant for so much more (thanks, Jon Foreman) than our current broken world and were instead intended for shalom – for harmony with God, with the earth, with our fellow (wo)man and our self. The early chapters o Genesis set this up so beautifully in the Garden of Eden, revealing humanity the way it was intended. And so in our gathered assemblies together, we often speak of making our way or working our way back to the garden as we understand more and more of who we were intended to be.
But I heard a phrase recently that has thrown me for a bit – perhaps taking me deeper in my understanding of this aspect of spiritual formation. Someone used the term “true selves” in reference to our position in the garden. And I immediately fell in love with it.
So much of the teachings and writing concerning the Christian discipleship or spiritual formation is about working toward something new. We are usually called (out of fear) to turn from our old ways, our old man, our earthly self and invited to move toward eternal life or to have our sins forgiven, et al. Growing up, there was a lot of talk about a need to be disciplined to learn these new ways, to become the new man (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course). And it was oftentimes a frustrating journey of my feeble attempts to grow new limbs and learn to walk again like an infant.
Yet with this new analogy or understanding of our “true selves,” I realize now that it’s more than that. Sharing the gospel with someone or training someone in discipleship is not having to learn some new way of doing things or it’s not something to work toward necessarily. Instead, what if it was about calling people back to being their true selves. It’s about teaching them who they were created to be, seeing their place in the grand narrative and realizing that there’s a better way to live – one which they were originally intended to do/be in the first place.
There’s a freedom in a perspective like this and it’s something I feel I’m coming alive to myself. And it’s something I hope to add to our vernacular at the Mercy House.
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.