Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 3, 2014

Staring At Our Feet

“Generally speaking, if you want to know who you really are as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.” Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

feet Buechner suggests that our feet provide a window into who we really are. We might like to think that we are in good physical shape, for example, but if our feet haven’t wandered into a gym in while we may need to think again. We might talk a lot about the importance of caring for the poor, but if we haven’t walked over to the homeless shelter to volunteer we might need to re-evaluate whether this is really one of our values.

Buechner suggests, then, that human beings have tendency towards self-deception. There is often a gap between who we think we are and who we really are.

Psychologists have pointed out how we use a variety of defense mechanisms that help us avoid facing our true selves. Sometimes we justify negative behavior on the grounds that it is not that bad. Sometimes we we get defensive when our faults are exposed. Other times we project the anger we have towards our faults on to other people who demonstrate similar behavior. Or sometimes we simply put up a front. We act with a pseudo-kindness or pseudo-holiness in order to cover up who we really are.

This is not simply a modern psychological concept. Jesus often confronts the problem of self-deception in the gospels. In Mark 12, for example, he says, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” While the religious leaders of the day thought they were righteous and holy, their actions betrayed them.

Our tendency toward self-deception is understandable. The reason we use these defense mechanisms is because it can be scary and uncomfortable to confront our weaknesses. There are things in our life that we are embarrassed or ashamed about. I don’t know about you, but when I look down at my feet I don’t always like what I see. I see myself spending a lot of time standing in places that are comfortable and self-serving.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that the call to honest self-discovery is worth the risk. This past weekend I read David Benner’s book, The Gift of Being Yourself: The sacred journey of self discovery. In his book, Benner suggests that Christ provides a safe context for confronting our true self. We can take the risk of being honest because we have a God who is ready to receive us in grace. We can take the risk of acknowledging our brokenness because we have a God who is ready to heal.

Buechner suggests that if we keep an eye on our feet we will discover who we truly are. I believe this is not only because we discover our missteps. It also allows us to discover that we are people who are deeply loved by God. For, you see, to gaze at our feet requires us to assume the posture of prayer. And as we take the risk of humbly bowing before God we discover that God is, in fact, sitting at our feet with a wash basin and a towel.

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