From the place of our woundedness we construct a false self. We find a few gifts that work for us, and we try to live off them. Stuart found he was good at math and science. He shut down his heart and spent all his energies perfecting his "Spock" persona. There, in the academy, he was safe; he was also recognized and rewarded. "When I was eight," confesses Brennan Manning, "the impostor, or false self, was born as a defense against pain. The impostor within whispered, 'Brennan, don't ever be your real self anymore because nobody likes you as you are. Invent a new self that everybody will admire and nobody will know.'" Notice the key phrase: "as a defense against pain," as a way of saving himself. The impostor is our plan for salvation.
So God must take it all away. He thwarts our plan for salvation; he shatters the false self. Our plan for redemption is hard to let go of; it clings to our hearts like an octopus.
Why would God do something so terrible as to wound us in the place of our deepest wound? Jesus warned us that "whoever wants to save his life will lose it" (Luke 9:24). Christ is not using the word bios here; he's not talking about our physical life. The passage is not about trying to save your skin by ducking martyrdom or something like that. The word Christ uses for "life" is the word psyche — the word for our soul, our inner self, our heart. He says that the things we do to save our psyche, our self, those plans to save and protect our inner life — those are the things that will actually destroy us.
"There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death," says Proverbs 16:25. The false self, our plan for redemption, seems so right to us. It shields us from pain and secures us a little love and admiration.
Resting in Jesus is not applying a spiritual formula to ourselves as a kind of fix-it. It is the essence of repentance. It is letting our heart tell us where we are in our own story so that Jesus can minister to us out of the Story of his love for us. When, in a given moment, we lay down our false self and the smaller story of whatever performance has sustained us, when we give up everything else but him, we experience the freedom of knowing that he simply loves us where we are. We begin just to be, having our identity anchored in him. We begin to experience our spiritual life as the “easy yoke and light burden” Jesus tells us is his experience.
The law tells us that there is nothing we have done that is hidden from our God. The Gospel tells us that we have no reason to fear that God knows everything about us. He forgives. Jesus offers grace. Jesus offers mercy and Jesus offers salvation.