The Epic Battle Between Self-Expression and Self-Protection

By: Jim Murphy


The Epic Battle Between Self-Expression and Self-Protection

1. At any given moment in time, what’s running your life is your heart (spirit), and what’s running your heart is your greatest desire. 

2. If your greatest desire is the pursuit of something unstable, then your journey will be as stable as that which you’re pursuing. If much of it is out of your control, you’ll be hard-pressed not to slide towards self-protection mode. However if the very top of your desires is something invincibly solid, then you’ll have a stable path to express your gifts.

3. At any given moment, we’re walking in either love or fear, self-expression or self-protection. Self-expression, that is, “True-Self” expression, is where we go out into the world wholehearted, sharing our unique gifts with others. Self-Protection is the default, the path of fear, the one caught up in oneself. It takes intentional planning and action to move into the fearless path of love where the default is sharing and expressing rather than hoarding and protecting. 

4. Every day we’re given a choice, do we go down the natural path of self-concern that leads to self-protection and fear, or pursue a purpose far beyond ourselves and walk in the fearlessness of love?

Note: For those of you who shared concern about negative responses from the article I wrote on Jan. 7th about Critical Race Theory, thank you! What I didn’t say was that I also received positive feedback, including one reader who said his respect and admiration increased immeasurably. The one who called me a condescending, mindless, dumb – – – asked to be taken off the list. Probably a good decision.

“In order to discover the character of people we have only to observe what they love.” – St. Augustine

On Christmas Eve 1914, in the dank, muddy trenches on the Western Front of the first world war, a remarkable thing happened. British machine gunner Bruce Bairnsfather was crouched in a trench three feet deep by three feet wide, his days and nights marked by an endless cycle of sleeplessness and fear. “Here I was in this horrible clay cavity, miles and and miles from home. Cold, wet through and covered with mud,” Bairnsfather shared. At about 10pm across the field, among the dark shadows beyond, he heard… singing.

The Germans were singing Christmas carols. In the darkness, some of the British soldiers began to sing back. “Suddenly we heard confused shouting from the other side. We all stopped to listen. The shout came again,” Bairnsfather recalled. The voice was from an enemy soldier, speaking in English with a strong German accent. He was saying, “Come over here.”

The soldiers traded songs, tobacco and wine, joining in a spontaneous holiday party in the cold night. At one point along the Western Front, a friendly soccer match began with both Germans and allied soldiers. It was an extraordinary example of self-expression overcoming self-protection. Love overcame fear (and the war between the two) for a few moments one Christmas Eve in France. 

When I say self-expression, I mean sharing your unique gifts with the world, the piece that only you can share. It’s bringing your whole self to the world, your fully engaged, non-self-conscious, non-judgmental, non-comparing self. 

This wholehearted life is continuously threatened before it even starts. We have a deep need (our deepest) to love and connect with others. In our quest to meet this need, we often pursue illusions of real love and connection in the form of possessions, achievements, looks, money and status (PALMS). In that pursuit we lose ourselves, as well as all the possibilities that abound when we go out into the world as our true, wholehearted selves. It greatly limits what we can express. Our gifts get muted. 

Every day when we wake up, a battle begins. Will we take the default path of self-concern, moving towards self-protection, anxiety and fear, or will we choose the path of love, moving towards self-expression, community and connection? 

The battle is in your mind and the battle is for your heart. In this battle for our hearts (so we can be our true selves and fully express our gifts), the ego is the main obstacle.

When I say ego, I mean that part of our minds that is always judging, always threatened, and never satisfied. It can never get enough, and is ever aware that someone else is likely to have more success/status/connections… and so we cannot rest. It’s the unending pursuit of being good enough, ok enough, so we can finally relax. Most people you’ve met will live most of their lives in pursuit of this homeostasis, that place where they can fully be themselves and live an expressive, creative life, rather than a reactionary, protective one. 

We can shortcut that pursuit, however. We can go directly for what we want (rather than spending our whole lives searching) by making sure what we love most is stable and secure. 

St. Augustine (1600 years ago) said that we are defined not by what we know but by what we desire.  It’s our loves that govern our actions and pursuits. Theologian Tim Keller explains:

“The functional cause of our discontent is that our loves are “out of order.”

Augustine taught that we are most fundamentally shaped not as much by what we believe, or think, or even do, but by what we love. “For when we ask whether somebody is a good person, we are not asking what he believes or hopes for, but what he loves.” 

You may say that you believe in social equality and justice and think that you do, but if you make business decisions that exploit others, it is because at the heart level you love your own prosperity more than your neighbor’s. In short, what you love most at the moment is what controls your action at that moment. “A body by its weight tends to move toward its proper place… My weight is my love: wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me.” You are what you love.

Augustine did not see our problems as stemming only from a lack of love. He also observed that the heart’s loves have an order to them, and that we often love less important things more and the more important things less. Therefore, the unhappiness and disorder of our lives are caused by the disorder of our loves.”

Our greatest need is love and connection, so we’re constantly looking around to see if we’re successful enough, good-looking enough, connected enough, to attract and deserve that love. It becomes a never-ending treadmill, chasing our tails, seeking love through a very busy life in pursuit of success. Ironically all this self-concern and self-protection ends in loss of self.

The question to ask yourself
Has my stress in performance really been the fear of not being accepted, loved or connected?

Whether you’re a performing artist or athlete, executive or intern, we’re all in pursuit of successfully sharing our gifts with the world. It’s just that we’re so often blocked by putting up walls of self-protection that we imprison ourselves. Those walls greatly limit what we can share with the world. To be all we can be, we need to take risks, and we need to love most what is most powerful and stable. 

We need to break down the walls of self-protection so we can see more of reality… so we can get beyond seeing the world as we are, and see the world as it is. To do that, we need to not just walk in love, but get our loves in an order that allows us to be fearless.

Love Jim

Personal note: Help me decide where to live
As most of you know, I sold my little retreat center in Point Roberts, WA this past March with the plan of getting rid of most of my possessions, moving into a bus, and loosely following the PGA Tour. The first two things happened, but I decided to go in a different direction (hopefully based on love not fear, self-expression not self-protection, and of course especially hopeful of good listening skills to God’s prompting) and so I’m looking to settle down in a fixed dwelling (not a motorized one!). Which country is still to be determined.
Here’s the basic parameters:

  • I want to live simply, to serve the poor, and become fluent in spanish 
  • I want to share God’s love, wisdom and courage with athletes and leaders around the world
  • I want to be relatively close to an international airport to see clients (and you all) 

If you have any suggestions let me know! Also, what would be your top parameters for where to live?

I’m off to Arizona on Sunday for the Phoenix Open where there’s been some memorable shots, especially one the young TW hit on 16 in 1997 (go to 3:25). Yes, it was the same year where two months later he had his most famous golf tournament ever.

*Note: The story of the Christmas Truce was adapted mainly from these two resources below. 

WWI’s Christmas Truce: When Fighting Paused for the Holiday. Baime, A.J. and Jansen, Volker.

The Story of the Christmas Truce. Dash, Mike.

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. Keller, Tim. 2016.

Further Reading
The Psychology of Self-Defense: Self-Affirmation Theory. Sherman, David, K. and Cohen, Geoffrey L. Ed.Stanford.Edu. (PDF)
Note: this academic article is about how in life there are constant threats to self which arouse self-defense and inhibit growth.

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