The Self

birdsWhat is the Self? In all our relationships we tend to unconsciously fill a role, such as subordinate before our boss, parent to our child, expert before someone seeking our advice, a strong person when being admonished. We notice that with different people we feel different.

Eckhart Tolle, a non-Christian spiritual writer, says that in filling prescribed roles and the expectations that go along with them we put on a false self. Christian mystics like Thomas Merton would agree. “My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love,” Merton said. The false self feeds the ego’s need for survival, adapting to whatever it needs to be in the moment, even if the false self claims to need envy, apathy, or ill-temper.

How do we reclaim our true Self? The answer is deep love. I realize that I am fully myself before my significant other and before God. These two relationships are different than any other relationships in that they strive continually for intimate, unconditional, transparent, and fully vulnerable love. The intimacy with a significant other matches no other human relationship. True deep love with that person can reveal nothing other than the most authentic you. That intimacy is magnified in the God-me relationship where God knows me unequivocally. There is nothing to hide. Therefore, instead of analogizing my relationship with God (father-son, friend-friend, master-servant) I can allow myself to just be. That being, Tolle might say, is authentic Selfhood, without labels or titles or self-judgements.

Echoing Merton, trying to be someone we just aren’t is our egoistic attempt to reside outside the reach of God’s naked and unquenchable love. But there is no place God cannot reach if you allow it. Consider the state of your self before God. If the deepest intimate love exists there, then the truest Self is there too.

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Andy Otto
Andy Otto is an Ignatian blogger and spiritual director. He currently works in adult faith formation and retreat direction at a Jesuit parish and retreat center in Atlanta, GA, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Andy is the author of God Moments and holds a master’s degree in theology and ministry from Boston College.


  1. Kerri…Yes! I struggle with the ego and not seeing it as evil but the human part of me that separates me from my true self. I trust God will gently and thoroughly undue what I have made and open my mind and heart to see what He made and love living from my true self.

  2. Thank you Andy, I’ve read this over a couple of times and will likely read it again. It’s not only made me think about my primary relationship with greater reverence, but also helped me to remember compassion for that ego self that tries so hard, and so fruitlessly, to protect itself. And in your words I see the real possibility of peace with God instead.

  3. Well said. Human Intimacy can be a gift in that it mirrors the most wonderful aspects of a relationship with God—vulnerability, love, trust, joy, risk, let down, let ups. In short, we experience what it means to be truly human—both joy and suffering. Thanks for the post.

  4. How absolutely amazing to reflect on and to know that the God of all creation wants an intimate relationship with me! No pretense is possible because our God knows everything about me and still loves me. All I have to do is open the door and God will come in. It is incomprehensible but oh so true! Thank you for this thought-provoking post – I have come back to it several times.


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