“Self-consciousness is the enemy of ‘interestingness.’” — Malcolm Gladwell.

iStock_000016049950SmallOne of the most beautiful things about small children is their lack of self-consciousness. They sing, dance, and whirl without pretext. Their shimmering self is uncloaked and skipping about with abandon. Spend some time with a three-year-old.

Jesus said we must become as children in order to see the kingdom. Yet, sadly, children are ‘older’ now at younger ages.

Author Marie Winn, in Children Without Childhood, wrote about the cultural changes and demands that put children at risk, causing them to grow up too early–things like family breakups, accessibility of drugs and premature exposure to sex and coarse language in books, movies, TV, and on the Internet.

I was privileged to be child for most of my childhood. In other families divorce happened, people drank too much, and sometimes adults fought. I remember the moment I heard JFK had been shot and watched Martin Luther King’s funeral. But those realities were mere shadows on the periphery of my otherwise sunny world.

HidingStill, sooner or later innocence is lost. And one kind of loss is the development of self-consciousness. While it’s good to know how your words and actions affect others, there is a dark side to self-consciousness that can become a lifelong tyranny.

Do you remember being unaware of yourself? A time when you didn’t know you didn’t have a hairstyle? A place of acceptance where any question could be asked? A season of dreaming and exploring and belly flops without embarrassment.

A shift comes. Suddenly you are intensely concerned about the blemish on your cheek or have a sinking feeling that your feet are ugly. Maybe you said something that others thought was dumb. Or someone called you names or used unkind words behind your back. And depending on your sense of self, you may have ended up painfully conscious of every move you make…every breath you take…because someone’s watching you.

Sounds like junior high, I know.

But what if that shift lasts deep into adulthood, and you are still playing your hand into the abyss of feared disapproval? You become hyper-focused on looking young or being clever or working long hours for an impossible boss. You want to be the “cool” mom or the Christian who says, “yes” to every needy person or situation.

You can by yourselfAnd somewhere along the way, you stopped being you.

That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. Author Mike Mason describes Him as The Photographer…

“The photographer stands in the park with his subject. It is a beautiful day, a perfect day for a picture. But the subject is nervous, ill at ease. The photographer knows that his first and most difficult job is to get his subject to relax, to be herself. Until this happens, all his film will be wasted.

“The photographer takes a few pictures anyway, just to fool the subject into thinking that the session is proceeding well. This may not be so bad, she begins to think.

“’Turn this way,’ the photographer says. ‘Now that way…now lift your right arm a little…now let’s try a different angle, against those trees…good…very good.’

“It’s not really very good. The photographer knows he hasn’t yet got what he wants. Far from it. There’s one shot he’s looking for. Just one.

“What is it? What does he want? He wants a revelation of character. He’s looking for the subject to be entirely herself, to reveal in one unguarded moment who she is. The subject, like most people, is fiercely protective of her true identity. She herself does not know who she is, let alone give out this information to others.

“It is a secret.

iStock_000040954702Small“It is rare to be fully and unselfconsciously alive. What we would give to feel this way for one moment, let alone live this way? People are afraid of themselves, afraid of living freely. We are frightened of the implications. We might have to dance in the streets, hug a stranger, or sit a whole day in a meadow of wildflowers. What keeps you from living authentically?”

(Read more of Mike Mason)

Living unselfconsciously alive brings out your true interestingness. It’s like the effortless ping when a tennis ball hits the sweet spot on your racket and soars over the net. Until then, we’re just making whacks at life.

Or how about improvising a piano piece you know so well. Something magical transpires and you don’t know how it happened.

Maybe something surges up inside you, allowing you to be frank in stifled relationships. You find the words to get down to what really matters. A new connection forms…

I know you know the difference between a fake selfie grin and a genuine smile. That’s what the Holy Spirit is coaxing out of you. He wants you to be you because it changes something in the world that involves the purposes for which you were created.

Tell me if you understand…


  1. Dear Susan,

    Recently I saw a young girl looking over a fence. Her hair was combed, but not “done”, no makeup, of course. I remembered my carefree self at that age. I was envious of her freedom. At 60, I need a lot more maintenance, but how much is too much? I want to enjoy life the way I did at 8 years old. Running out of the house looking for adventures and forgetting to worry about my appearance. I understand.

    • Renon… Start in small ways. On your day off plan an adventure or don’t wear makeup on Saturdays. Think about what is life-giving to you! My daughter loves to rearrange her house and change the decorations. I love to paint landscapes in a Van Gogh-ish style. Maybe you love theatre but never go…buy some tickets! Do small things that feel like you—like what you love and give yourself permission to do it. Yesterday, I made “snow” with a little ice machine I bought years ago, and ate it with my granddaughter. We swung in the hammock and talked about the shape of clouds–this one a fish, that one an alligator. Then we made a tent for my dog who gets scared of thunderstorms. We used a card table and bedspreads so the dog would have a place to hide from the lightning flashes. Being around children reminds me how to play and create and invent and wonder. Sending love…Susan

  2. “And depending on your sense of self, you may have ended up painfully conscious of every move you make…every breath you take…because someone’s watching you.”

    Susan, that sentence sums it up. Your piece this morning is penetrating a deep place in me. The Holy Spirit is speaking…

    • Cath… It is a wondrous thing to me to think that even though we are full-fledged adults, God can bring us into a place where we are not self-conscious in trapped codependency, always playing our hand into others expectations and desires. Impossible for me without the Holy Spirit!

  3. Hi! Yes I understand. Too well. I knew at 4 years old I was naughty. I knew I was a liar and ugly and imperfect, as a young girl…. I knew I was dirty and nitty and stupid. Why? Because my father told me. When ever I tried to be me, I was laughed at, crushed or beaten. Mum tried to allow us to be girls, but she had her own issues about woman hood, so it was really difficult for her. Dad humiliated, embarrassed us, so much so, I believed it was my father who choose my husband and not me. He would get my sister and I to fight for his affection, forcing and manipulating the relationship. He was the terro and god of our lives. He had total control, we had none (it was dangerous-why give a child control, they might reject you-he believed this-had he trusted and let go-ohhhhhhhhhhhh how I could have loved him.)

    What has this done? It caused me to think I was only worth mirror value, cheap, so when a man showed he liked me, I gave him what he wanted. I gave myself away. I rejected myself, because my father rejected me. This also crossed to my view of God as Papa. He would punish me, I was not good enough, I was wicked and unlovable. I could never please Him. I could not trust Him, He was waiting for me to take the step of trust so he could say AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH NOW………………….. Just like my father.
    So I did not know who I was. I became what I though others wanted me to be. Who I DECIDED I was, against the world, NO ONE was EVER going to hurt me again. NEVER!

    But I am learning. It had taken Papa years and years of waiting, for me to tentatively peer out from behind my rock, breathing so fast and ducking quick, in case. Staying in the dark, so He cannot see me or find me. (Yes he can, but lets deny that!) What has he done? Sat the other side of my rock. Waiting…………………….telling me He loves me, telling me he accepts me AS I AM, a complete mess. Telling me that actually He does not see my mess, or the rags I hide behind, He see’s me-and I am beautiful. More than that…………………I am perfect, and He and I are related….. I am HIS daughter. Not my biological fathers. And He will wait until I come out from my rock-no matter how many times I go back,….. just in case. That I can make the move-no fear no manipulation from Him. At first I did not understand. I was angry He would not come down from heaven and fight me, so I could tell Him I HATED Him for giving me my father as my parent. But He did not come when I demanded. Finally last week, I realized why. I would have been fearful of Him, and I would have manipulated Him, things that came from my earthly Father, and He did not want me to see HIM that way. So he waited……………….while I did my absolute best to destroyed myself, until I at last looked at the shaft of light from the darkness of my rock and said ‘maybe………………’ So Although I am still fearful and angry and hurting, and these things will be dealt with – I am allowed to scream out all my hate at him, tell Him how He betrayed me how He did not protect me……………….and He will take it, not to tell me off, but to weep with me, that I was lost, bullied and taught and forced to be someone I was not.

    (He wants me too get angry – all these years He has lived KNOWING what hate and darkness was in my heart, His delight is that I OWN it – be honest, let it out, give it to Him and let it go, so He can replace it with the love and acceptance I should have had – allowing me to be free to chose what I want to choose – either to love Him and myself or reject Him and my self, or just to walk away, healed but without Him – the choice is mine – He will not force anything.)

    I have decided. I WILL NOT see Him anymore with the eyes of seeing Him as my biological father. I am still behind my rock, but sometimes now, I can crawl round and sit next to Him – I can’t look, but one day I will, and I will see Him for who He is and me for who I AM.

    • Nicola–Your story is so wrenching, so fraught with pain and sadness—and yet very beautiful… Childhood betrayal especially from fathers is the deepest of wounds and can easily scar one’s view of God forever. But you are so right–Father God is patiently wooing you from out behind the rock and understands to the cellular level how hard that is for you. He want you to feel the safety of His lovingkindness and one day you won’t hesitate to climb up on his lap. I remember a speaker, Heidi Baker, telling how God had to lasso her as if she was a bucking horse and wrestle her down so He could look her in the eyes and say “STOP and let me love you. Let me tell you over and over how much you mean to me.” Nicola, thank you for sharing and taking time to write this for others. Your words have a ministry all their own and I hope you’ll consider becoming a writer. Wishing I could give you a big hug… Susan

  4. Thank you Susan. This is a desperately needed confirmation to me that the Father is leading me and pleased with me. I also relate to Nicola’s story. This childlike unselfconsciousness is the thing I got back like new when I was saved many years ago. And the enemy has been trying to rob me of it ever since. Innocence and trust between us and God is a precious gift, and necessary if He is going to be free to use us – speak and act through us – in His kingdom. Because often what He wants me to say or do is socially unacceptable or “politically incorrect”. In Christian circles as well as the world. I am so glad I read your blog this morning because I was feeling so alone and misunderstood. Thank you!

  5. so suze
    it is possible i might “over-understand”!
    i love the bit about god being the photographer, waiting, always waiting for us to let it all hang out with unbridled joy and loss of self consciousness.
    i wish everyone in the whole wide world would read this here blog, it is quite a thought to ponder. and quite a challenge to act upon. with a huge reward to reach for, like the ring on the carousel of life.
    suzee B

    • Suzee, I love the way you put words and phrases together. Your interestingness is always showing!

  6. I have been pondering this all week and today I have house guests coming and my daughter is starting her senior year of high school and there are so many needs she has and so many things on my to do list preparing for my guests that my back is starting to go out.

    What if I did not try to take on my daughter’s anxiety and what if I let her handle her own problems instead of taking them away from her and solving everything for her? What if I did not rush to the store and buy all sorts of flowers and special food for my guests? What if I was just me when they arrived and showed up lovingly but not perfectly? What if I was just me and not super me? What if I was actually “still” before Jesus and realized I was enough just as I am???

    • Yes, Cathy… it is my exact same struggle and I’ve been doing it all my life. I love what you said about just being you and not “super you.” I do believe God gives us the freedom to take ourselves off that hook.