The other night I happened to be up late and decided to wind down with an episode of my favorite show – Seinfeld. Maybe you’ve seen it, the self proclaimed show about nothing, but at the same time it’s a show about everything. All the annoyances, worries, relationship issues, and minutia that would not be the substance for any other show were tackled by this group of four friends that spent so much of their time sitting and talking in a coffee shop.
On this particular evening, as I got comfy and drowsy on the couch I was met with this familiar scene (I’ve seen them all several times, Seinfeld is my comfort food):
The usually clean shaven Jerry and George sitting on opposite sides of their usual booth at the coffee shop, both sporting thriving mustaches and having another meaningless conversation about what Holland is. When Jerry is suddenly overcome declares that he can’t stand the mustache any longer. George concurs that he hates his too, feeling “like an out of work porn star”. It seems when the idea of taking a summer vacation had come up, the extremely frugal and commonly unemployed George suggested a “vacation from themselves” by growing facial hair. It would be better than a real vacation he had proposed.
So, in order to experience the freedom, rest and peace that a vacation would bring, the two fellows decide to change something about their external appearance.
They still visited the same coffee house.
With the same people.
Ordered the same thing.
Read the same paper.
Had the same conversations about nothing.
And experienced a profound disappointment with the results.
Not only were they let down by the results of the change, but they were uncomfortable with the new selves that they had created.
It is far easier and all too common to look at following Christ as taking a vacation from ourselves. Rather than adopting a new identity, we put on holy behaviors. (Sounds like a white washed tomb.) Unfortunately, if we force ourselves to simply act in a new way and stop short of developing this new identity – by looking at what was driving our old identity and becoming aware of the extent of our brokenness – we will be disappointed with the results. Just like the itch of a newly grown mustache (ladies, does growing your leg hair out itch as much as does men’s facial hair?), the new covering for the old self will be uncomfortable and exhausting. A futile exercise in self effort.
Just as new wine cannot be put into old wineskins (to quote the Master), the Spirit cannot be put into the old self. The Spirit is intended to shed light on and revive our image, the new creation, our true self.
For this to happen, change cannot just be on the surface. It may begin that way, but true, lasting change must germinate within. Having our interior have the light of Christ shed on it. Confronting our brokenness, not to adopt it as a new identity, but to know the destructive fire that shall be put out by the living waters within. The truth of the Gospel that we tell ourselves as our thoughts are taken captive.
This is a process more difficult than words can convey. It requires us to have the word hidden in our hearts. It requires us to be in community with others who do likewise. Although we do not do these things simply to have new behaviors to check off a to do list on a vacation from ourselves, but as the way to confront to old self as we enter into the sanctifying process of denying that self and following Christ as a new creation.