Coming out of my recent 50th high school reunion, I kept thinking of who I was in those years: Always so carefully dressed with a button-down, collared, dress shirt. Trim slacks. My Bass Weejun loafers. Perfect.
Looking back, I understand now that I was always hiding the younger man who was embarrassed about every flaw. I was always blocking out my teenage rage at my alcoholic parents who were screwing up my life. I remember my steaming frustration when my drunken mother never got to the wash, leaving me with something less than a perfect, clean set of clothes to wear to hide my internal and family messiness.
When I first began my journey with The Crucible Project, other men must have seen past my mask. From time to time, leaders and more experienced Crucible men took to pulling out my shirttail to mess up my perfect look. I got angry. They were blowing my cover. Somehow, these wise, Godly men knew that my perfect look was one of my chosen personas to feel better about my flawed self.
I remember one of the first times that I staffed a Crucible Project weekend. Showing up with my perfect persona, one of the leaders challenged me saying, “This weekend may you smile at your mistakes.”
I responded pleasantly but inside thought to myself, “That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. Smile at my mistakes — that’s crazy — I’m working hard to avoid every mistake because people can’t possibly love me in such moments.”
That leader planted a small seed. I would still wince at my mistakes. But slowly, I began to see that my mistakes didn’t ruin what I — and others — were doing. Despite my imperfections, others still seemed to welcome and love me. I began to realize that I learned more from my mistakes than I did from my successes. So maybe I didn’t have to “dress” perfectly to be loved and to be useful.
In his book, Falling Upward, noted spiritual author and former Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr took me even deeper and led me to smile. Rohr writes: “I have prayed for one good humiliation a day and then watch my reaction to it. In my position (as a professional religious person), I have no other way of spotting both my well-denied shadow self and my idealized persona.”
Flaws, mistakes, humiliations. Rohr welcomes them. He even prays for them. It got me to thinking more about what I could learn — and how I could think differently – about my flawed self and my perfect personas.
You see, Rohr’s prayer for a daily humiliation is about seeing the truth about himself, seeing the shadow part he wants to hide, and facing the persona he has formed to feel better about himself. This is the inner soul work that promises long-term peace.
Awareness is one of the first steps to growth. The moments we count as humiliating are really windows to the parts of us that we are hiding, the idealized persona that we promote.
- A month ago in the church where I attend, I preached on a favorite text in Luke. I thought I did well. But for days afterwards I kept getting snagged over something I said that was unwise, unnecessary and even distracting. It was my humiliation for that day. Awareness—yes, that’s my game, trying to dress and speak perfectly to win admiration. Awareness moves this shadow out in front of me and gives me the option to live differently.
- As a hospital chaplain, I recently visited patient up against alcohol addiction. As we talked, I began exploring her thoughts about her drinking, but she stopped me saying, “I’m not interested in talking about this.” Ah, my humiliation for that day pointed out my idealized persona of the chaplain who is good with addicts. I entered that room believing my persona and failing to read her body language before we even started talking.
Our daily humiliations reveal shadow and create room for truth. Peter denied Jesus and then suffered a night of fishing with only empty nets — his humiliation. And Jesus’ response—he graciously invited Peter to a hearty, grace-filled breakfast on shore.
My humiliations (imperfect sermon & rough hospital visit) revealed my shadow self. Humbled, then I could hear Jesus reveal my true self, “You are my beloved son.”
Yes, I am flawed, but good. And despite that, I am still loved by Jesus, by others and increasingly … by me.
By John Casey
John completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2005, is a graduate of our two-year transformational program and is a weekend leader for The Crucible Project. He enjoys writing about authentic living for men. As a senior pastor for 32 years, he has written and preached hundreds of sermons on God’s character and mission, our purpose and mission, spiritual transformation and effective relationships.
Photo Credit: Provenance Online Project via Creative Commons.