Three Ways to Exchange Your Old Self for a New One (Part 2)
So how did you do this past week? Did every day feel like a fresh start, free of former fears and tired anxieties? Have you been able to cauterize old memories and stop them from leaking into your thinking? Or do you continue to lie awake at night, your brain stuck switching among mental radio stations, all of them static?
Last week we talked about the need to clean out the cache on our mental browsers that stubbornly insists on displaying past history. My favorite pastor—the one I’ve been fortunate enough to live with for the past 43 years – has taught me to actually be thankful for all those windows that open to pages from my personal history revealing weaknesses I’d rather forget. As Mike puts it, “When our brains default to our old fears and regrets, it’s a continual reminder of our daily dependence on God.”
One of my grad school lecturers, Lisa Vischer, defined fear as the emotional fallout from being disconnected from God’s presence and perfect love. But as I write in my upcoming book, This Life We Share, we can’t simply divorce ourselves from our emotions. They are us, and they won’t allow us to part ways.
Our feelings, however, are subject to arbitration. We can learn to not only tolerate the presence of fear but also to invite in Perfect Love as the mediator.
So how do we do this? I’d like to suggest three ways.
First, pay attention. “Self-awareness comes, “ Lisa commented, “when we witness our thoughts, feelings, and actions —together with God — from a sacred distance.” Identify what you’re feeling without necessarily focusing on the why. (If you’re like me, sly anxiety likes to attach itself to whatever I’m doing in a day. It’s not particularly choosy). When you catch it in the act, call it out from hiding and bring it into the light. Consider this your “gotcha!” moment.
Second, practice the presence of God who sees you as you truly are. The old saints have done this for centuries so we’re not engaging in anything trendy here. Our Creator knows and loves our authentic, spiritually eternal selves – what is left when all else falls away. He doesn’t see us through a filter of culture or society but as we truly are. Pure gold.
Tara Westover grew up in the mountains of Idaho in an isolated family of survivalists who stockpiled supplies to prepare for the end of the world. Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. There was no one to ensure Tara and her siblings received an education, and no one to intervene when her older brother became violent. Though possessed with a deep intellect and innate self of morality, family members labeled her with degrading names like junkyard dog and whore.
In her #1 NYT bestseller Educated: A Memoir, Westover describes teaching herself enough math, grammar and science to attend university, her thirst for knowledge ultimately leading her to Harvard and Cambridge where she received a Ph.D. Tara’s professors recognized her raw brilliance, describing her as “pure gold” as a scholar, but in her mind she didn’t belong in the Ivy League. Despite superior scholastic achievement, Tara couldn’t get past seeing herself as her father and brother had.
In a memorable conversation at Cambridge, Tara’s academic advisor confronted her, telling her she had as much right to be there as anyone.
"You’re not fool’s gold,” Dr. Kerry said, raising his voice, “shining under a particular light. Whomever you become…that is who you always were. You are gold. And returning…to that mountain you came from will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself – even gold appears dull in some lighting – but that is the illusion. And it always was." 
Some of you reading this post right now struggle with breaking free of the labels that a parent or sibling or former spouse attached to you. Maybe they called you stupid or slow, unattractive or undisciplined. They took a portrait of themselves and pasted it over your life, passing you off as less-than.
Friends, hear me now. In God’s sight you are not pyrite—fool’s gold that only shines under a particular light. In his incandescent presence you’ve been made new in Christ.
It’s time to see yourself not as who you were then but as who you are now. You can state with confidence, “But he knows where I am going. And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.”(Job 23:10)
Finally, prepare to make this new way of thinking a habit. When Mike was a youth pastor, he used to ask his students how to get air out of glass. You can’t simply suck it out, because oxygen will rush right back in. Instead, you replace it with something else.
I am learning to turn my negative emotions over to God every day, asking him to replace my former view of myself with his divine perspective. It’s not a one-time thing but a daily discipline.
Yep, the old pages on your mental browser will keep trying to open, but if you continue to click on your new site/self, eventually it will be the first thing that comes up. Romans 12: 2 reminds us that we are truly transformed by the renewing of our minds.
It’s not only possible to exchange your old self for a new one, it’s a promise.
Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 2018), 242.