Are you ever a mystery to yourself? Do you sometimes wonder who you are? You’re not alone. It’s an age-old dilemma. Even the apostle Paul saw himself as a bundle of paradoxes, acknowledging, “I don’t really understand myself” (see Romans 7:14–25).
One of the most consequential blind spots we can ignore or confront is how we see ourselves. A story in the gospel of Mark illustrates the point. You might recall Mark’s account of the chain-shackled, demon-possessed resident of a graveyard.
I used to read this story, thinking I had nothing in common with this naked lunatic. However, a major blind spot prevented me from seeing several uncomfortable, striking similarities between his life and mine.
Like my life has been on more than a few occasions, this man’s life is out of control. Mark says he “could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. . . . No one was strong enough to subdue him” (Mark 5:3–4).
There was a time when I could not be still. While life’s opportunities and demands presented themselves in steady procession, I could not say no. My wife begged me to stop, and my children joined in the chorus. Even my supervisor insisted I slow down. A blind spot prevented me from seeing I was addicted to the powerful drug of recognition. Although recognition’s payoffs momentarily felt good, I was never content. No amount of praise was enough.
Resenting the demanding pace, often I daydreamed about life scenarios that contrasted dramatically with my daily existence. In my daytime fantasies, life was simple and uncomplicated, and I was entirely in control. Then reality would come back into focus, and I could again see the many necessities and demands calling for my response. Always running behind, I couldn’t finish everything I believed I must do. Burdened and guilty for being so inadequate, I shamed myself for being unable to respond to all the needs that clamored for my attention.
The most confusing thing about the demon-possessed, tomb-dwelling man was his bizarre behavior toward himself. “Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones”(Mark 5:5). The truth hurts, some say, but only when it needs to. I needed the pain of this recognition because I too was self-destructive. What made my life painful and difficult wasn’t imposed by others; it was self-imposed.
The severity of my harsh, mean-spirited self-judgment and self-contempt was intense. Like the tomb dweller, I was adept at howling and bruising myself. My life was like an emotional garbage heap. To keep the subsequent haunting feelings at arm’s length, I remained perilously busy.
Having watched Jesus and his friend’s arrival, the demon-possessed man ran wildly toward Jesus, shouting at the top of his lungs, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” (Mark 5:7). In other words, “Jesus, my life’s already a hot mess, and now you’ll only make it worse. Get out of here and leave me alone!” How ironic and sad, for one in such bad shape to believe the only One who could restore sanity to his life would intend to make it worse. I understand this madness. Blind to my deception, I was nothing more than a spruced-up version of the tomb dweller. I had a baseless fear that Jesus might rob me of the sources of my identity that I had strived to attain.
Whatever “business” the demon-possessed man imagined Jesus had up his sleeve for him, he certainly wasn’t ready for what came next. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” (Mark 5:9). And Jesus’s simple question delivered a powerful message: You matter very much to me, and I want us to connect.
The man replied, “My name is Legion because there are many of us inside this man” (Mark 5:9). I remember the father of a high school girl who jokingly threatened to rename his daughter “Legion,” because every time she came from her room, she appeared to be a different person. I can relate. For most of my life, I yearned to see my authentic identity clearly and to be that person consistently. I think God had the same yearning for me.
Blind Spots and Identity Confusion
It was a blind spot causing the identity confusion that characterized my earlier life. Thus, I wound up looking in the wrong places for the right answer to who I am. I relied on the accomplishments I struggled to achieve to make a name for myself. I looked to personal possessions: my family and friends, education, training, experience, recognition, and success as sources of my identity. I trusted in my reputation as a godly son, husband, father, and friend to determine my status.
Identity is something only God can give to you and me. Only the Inventor can provide the invented its identity, significance, and ultimate purpose. Because a blind spot prevented me from clearing seeing my Creator, I took the next logical step and looked instead to other creatures for my identity.
Meanwhile, the story of the demon-possessed man concludes with Jesus removing, most spectacularly, this man’s blind spot. Because God made the demon-possessed man, only Jesus could know precisely how to restore his vision. After Jesus cast out the demons, his disciples shoved the boat back off the beach where it had previously landed. As Jesus was about to leave, “the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.But Jesus said, ‘No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been’” (Mark 5:18–19).
A radical transformation occurred. Once begging Jesus to leave him alone, he’s now begging Jesus for the chance to be with him. Seeing Jesus clearly, the former madman is now able to see himself. His true identity revealed—a beloved son of God and friend of Jesus—he was now adequately equipped to live his life. Therefore, Jesus told him to return to his home and live the life he was created to live.
How Jesus Loves
Reflecting on this story has helped me see more clearly some things that are true about this man. It’s apparent Jesus loved the man more than anyone had ever loved him, and in ways, never experienced. I believe this man spent the rest of his life trying to comprehend the dimensions of Jesus’s love. Most compelling is Jesus didn’t validate him for any of the reasons I expect to be. Jesus loved him, not because he was charming, attractive, useful, talented, or deserving. In his former state, he was none of those things. Jesus’s love had to do with one thing only: who Jesus is. It was nothing about the man and everything about Jesus. Today, I am utterly convinced the same is true for you and for me.
For most of my earlier life, a blind spot prevented me from seeing how God feels about me. I live now in the growing awareness I am dearly loved, completely forgiven, and forever free. It’s as if Jesus has taken me by the hand and led me to the real me, the person I truly am, the person he made me to be.
How about you? Are you able to see yourself as God sees you?