Monday, October 11, 2021

Your Core Identity Illustrated by a Matryoshka Doll

My mother has been in a conversation with a friend about "dying to self" and what it practically means in the Christian's life. She sent me an email this morning that sparked some thoughts on this excellent subject.  

The concept of dying to self is based on the teachings of Jesus and the early Apostles. Here are three examples of what they said:
"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?" (Luke 9:24-25)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24).

Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

In order to understand the very important concept of "dying to self," the definition of "self" is critical. 

Think of yourself and your identity in terms of a Russian matryoshka doll. This doll is also known as a "nesting doll." It is a set of hand-painted wooden dolls that fit inside one another, each one inside the other until you come to the inner-most matryoshka doll that is completely whole and cannot be broken. 

This inner-most doll could be compared to your true personhood. It is "who I am by the grace of God."

 This is the "you" that is eternal. This is is your identity as God sees you in Christ (accepted by Him, loved by Him, cherished by Him, forgiven by Him, rewarded by Him, etc.). This is your true self. This is who the Father has made you by His work through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of your Savior and Lord, Jesus the Anointed One.

You don't die to this self. Your goal is to discover this inner-most person. This is your identity through God's grace. To discover this person, you must continually "grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). 

All of us must die to the outer shells of self for this discovery to occur. The outer matryoshka dolls hide what is whole and complete about us. The outer shells must either be broken, or removed, or separated for us to discover our true identity. We could call those outer matryoshka dolls ego shells. To discover my true self - that is, who I am by the grace of God - these outer "ego shell dolls" must die. For example:

1. My Facebook outer shell of self. This is the person I want to project. This is the part of me that is more concerned with how others perceive me than what God says about me. Until I die to controlling what others say about me, think about me, or perceive me, I'll never discover my true self that the Father has created for me. In other words, resting in the nesting of the inner-person God has made can't happen if I'm always concerned with the paint of my outer shell.

2. My Friends inner shell of self. This is person I want to protect. Friends are those who know you better than acquaintances. These are the ones who get a peek into the struggles of my life, and they remain my friend. Treasured friendships are therefore protected, because in a way, friendships protect me. But in time, I must be willing to die even to my friendships to discover my true identity. For example, Jesus warned us that when He begins to transform us, sometimes even our friends will turn against us. Friends want someone like them, and if our friends aren't in tune with Christ the way that we are becoming, then they won't be in tune with us. One of the most remarkable ways to measure our comprehension of who we are by the grace of God is to see how much our closest friends love, respect, and honor Christ. If they don't, we must set them aside as an impediment to discovering our true self.

3.  My Family deeper shell of self. This is the person I want to respect. We so badly want our family of origin to be whole and complete. All of us want family happiness and wholeness. Our family of origin is important because it gives us our first memories, our first relationships, our first formations of person. Unfortunately, family trust in our families of origin is often broken.  The wounds on this shell of self are deep and difficult to repair. When events occur that lead to "family secrets," things that nobody else knows and must never know, we find this shell of ego fragile and broken. But to uncover and discover my true personhood - who I am by the grace of God - I must die to the need for my family of origin to be perfect and whole. God is always teaching His children that personal and eternal identity never is derived from divorce, abuse, addictions, or familial relational failures. That shell is real, but it is temporary. Who I am is deeper. 

4. My Father's handiwork of grace.  This is the person I must learn to accept. This is my true self. Or as the song says, "This is me." This who I am in Christ by the grace of God. I am forgiven, loved, accepted, guided, protected, blessed, and cherished by HIM who is my very life. This is my true self, my true identity.  No matter what others say of me, do to me, or think of me. It is who I am as a person, and it is all the doing of God in His love for me through His Son, my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  
Only when the outer dolls are opened, or in a sense, broken, can this inner doll be discovered. In this analogy, until I die to the shells of ego, the person that is whole, perfect, and complete will never be discovered.  My true self is not on God’s agenda to be broken, put to death, or extinguished. Who I am by God's grace is to be uncovered and revealed.

So next time you find yourself going through a deep and hurtful family problem, or the next time you find yourself losing a friendship, or the next time you discover some pretty bad things that were said about you on Facebook, social media, or through gossip at a church dinner party, remember this:

God is in the business of removing our outer matryoshkas to reveal the inner beauty of who He has made us by His grace, for His glory, and our eternal good. 


Rex Ray said...


I kept waiting for someone to make a comment. Maybe they’re a little like me in wondering what have you been smoking?

I mean to compare us with a doll that has many layers and in order to find our true self, we have to peal those layers away; well, duh.

I like what someone said the goal of man should be: “To learn more about God so we would enjoy HIM more throughout eternity.”

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...


Sounds like you've been brushing up on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, [a] and to enjoy him for ever. [b]

Christiane said...

I have a set of traditional Matryoshka dolls given to me by a person from Latvia which borders Russia. It's very 'basic', and very colorful, and to me, unique.

As for the 'allegories' that can come from observing and handling these dolls, I read the post and thought it connected more with something in the holy Gospel of St. John, this:

"John 3:31
The One who comes from above is above all.
The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all.

Treasury of Scripture:

St. John the Baptist was the one being mentioned, as the one who pointed to Christ, saying, 'behold, the Lamb of God'

The Church 'assigned' days for saints to be remembered and honored, and for St. John the Baptist, his 'saint's day' was assigned to the Summer Solstice, the point at which the 'light of the Sun would daily lessen and 'decrease' until the time of the coming of Our Lord, Whose birthday is traditionally celebrated at the season of the Winter Solstice, when the light from the Sun daily begins to increase in length each day. It is known that one reason for these traditional dates was the saying of St. John the Baptist as recorded in the Holy Gospel of John with these words: 'He must increase, but I must decrease'.

Even before people could read, and there were printed bibles in many hands, the Church found ways to illustrate the moments in the Holy Gospels which pointed to Christ as 'Lord'. So use of the seasons, of the solstices, the ebb and flow of the Sun's daily light on the Earth in the Northern Hemisphere formed a 'natural' teaching of how it was that John the Baptist pointed, not to himself, but to Christ.

Humility: it takes away from us our fear of rejection and ill treatment from others, and allows us to see our situation from a much more distant, eternal perspective, one that forgives, and has no contempt for 'enemies', but by grace, allows us to return good for evil. Becoming humble can be a painful process, where false pride is stripped away and we are freed from its chains to walk in the Light.

Rex Ray said...


Yes, John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God” when times were good, but when times got bad, he asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else.” (Matthew 11:3 NLT)

(John was in prison, and later got his head cut off.)
Jesus could have said yes. Instead, he sent word to John:

“the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.” (Mathew 1:5-6 NLT)

CHRISTIANE, if you or me had been in ‘charge’, we may have sent a bolt of lightening to ‘comb’ Heriod’s wife’s hair.

What do you think?

Christiane said...

Up again late with ankle pain, REX RAY?

I think St. John the Baptist EXPECTED that Jesus would be coming with fire against evil doers to judge and punish them. I get this from the Gospel of St. Luke, this:

". . . Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.
16 John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water, but One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fan* is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So John the Baptist was confused as he had expected Christ to come as a warrior, so Our Lord reminds St. John of the prophecy of His coming found in Isaiah 29:18 and Isaiah 35:4, this:

"4 Jesus told them,
“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— 5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”

So John had to change his mind about Christ being a punishing kind of warrior in His first coming. . . . indeed St. John got it right, that Christ came as a lamb to the slaughter and his words 'Behold, the Lamb of God' was right on the mark for sure.

REX RAY, check this out, I think you will like reading it:

Rex Ray said...


No, not ankle pain, but lower lip is swollen; waiting for pain pills to work. I believe ‘evil cellulites’ is acting up again.

Yes, the link was good. It even quoted some Scripture I’d quoted. :)

Heriod liked John, it hurt to have him killed, but he couldn’t break his promise. John 6:17-29 tells the story.

You didn’t reply to my lightening bolt idea.

Rex Ray said...


Have you ever thought about this?

World’s Oldest Cold Case
Who was responsible for Paul’s death?

“…the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead.” (Acts 20:23 NLT)

“…These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:4 NLT)

“…a man named Agabus, who had the gift of prophecy…took Paul’s belt… “The Holy Spirit declares, “So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.” (Acts 21:10-11 NLT)

“The next day Paul went with us to meet with James, and all the elders of the Jerusalem church...” (Acts 21:18 NLT)

“Here’s what we want you to do. We have four men…Go with them to the Temple…” (Acts 21:23-24 NLT)

The Jewish leaders were in the Temple. So, the prophecy of Agabus starts.

Christiane said...

REX RAY, try some warm (not too hot) salt water as a rinse for that swollen lip area as it may help to reduce some of the swelling - salt water is my go-to for a LOT of difficulties and it is amazing how it works to counter swelling when used as a poultice. Cheap, too. :)

Your question about sending lightning bolts on the heads of the culprits who had St. John beheaded: actually, I would leave them to the judgment and justice (and maybe even GOD'S MERCY) of God Who sees into all his creatures what we cannot know. Yes, I know the story of Salome and her dancing and her request, and of how she was 'rewarded' for pleasing Herod, and much of our Western art portrays the event when St. John the Baptist's head is presented to Salome on a platter. Yes, I know.

BTW, did you know that St. John was the child of St. Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, whom Mary visited during their pregnancies; and St. Elizabeth said this, as recorded in sacred Scripture:

" 41 No sooner had Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, than the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Ghost; 42 so that she cried out with a loud voice, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord? 44 Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. " (from the Holy Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 1)

But there is something more: lighting bolts to destroy would not be in the tone of how St. John the Baptist was NAMED. . . . in tradition, St. John would have been called after his own father, Zachary, but the scriptures tell us that this was NOT what he was named. The story is told that both St. Elizabeth and Zachary chose to call the child 'John', a name that refers to 'the MERCY of God'. So much for sending lightning bolts. That's the way I see it. St. John the Baptist was named in celebration of the coming of Christ Whose mission was to SAVE that which was lost. (John, Hebrew; Jehohanan, i.e. "Yahweh hath mercy")

so much for ligntning bolts :)

BTW, Read the story of Mary and the Angel Gabriel, and of Elizabeth and Zachary in the first chapter of St. Luke's Gospel. Mary gives her powerful 'Magnificat' speech (the Song of Mary) and Zachary gives his own strong statement (the Song of Zachary)

St. Luke's Gospel plays a large part in how the Church understands the events preceding Our Lord's birth. His narrative is filled with details that tie much together in meaning about the mystery of the Incarnation. Read it again, REX RAY, and lay aside thoughts of 'lightning bolts' and think instead on 'the mercy of God'.

Christiane said...


speaking of 'James', what do you think of 'Matthew' when you read chapter 7 from St. Matthew's Gospel? I think James was confirming what Matthew taught. I don't think there was any conflict between Paul's letter to the Romans and the Holy Gospels, no.
In any case, when Our Lord 'spoke', it was said of Him, this:

"28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine:
29 FOR HE TAUGHT THEM AS ONE HAVING AUTHORITY, and not as the scribes."