It’s basic demonic advice, and few of us would need much explanation. Someone ought to add that’s there’s no good reason to stop at two separate lives. Three, four, five or fifteen separate lives are all possible if you learn the basics of compartmentalizing.
Yes, that’s a fifty cent word: compartmentalizing. Taking a whole life, dividing it into sections, putting up walls between those sections and living in each one as a different world that allows you to be a different person.
I’m not talking about multiple personalities. I’m simply saying that Screwtape was wise to point out that we often live in one room- and with the people in that room- as if the other rooms don’t exist.
I look at my students, and I realize that we are constantly training them to live in various compartments as different people. Integration, integrity and wholeness in all of life are very difficult. We construct a student’s life in such a way that it’s extremely easy to imagine that compartmentalization is normal and good.
Activity after activity. Class after class. Different adults. Different peers. Different settings. The person who can move easily from one relationship and experience to another is rewarded. The person who has difficulty adopting these many different roles into one personality is looked at as inferior. We give awards for “versatility.”
I’ve noticed over the years that teenagers and young adults who are successful easily develop a kind of false and movable personality. It’s useful, and it’s one of the reasons they do well and we like them. But if you listen to their stories, their poetry and their self-reporting, you hear the consistent complaint: I am a false person; I am living a life that is not truly me.
We’re very invested in compartmentalizing who we are. It works. It’s safe. It keeps us away from what hurts. And, of course, it’s disastrous in the long run.
Years ago, I heard that one of my friends had discovered her husband was married and had children with another woman in another community. This was a man who came to our church quite often. He was a successful businessman. He had a good reputation and never seemed the least bit unusual.
He was, however, a man who looked at himself in the morning, realized he was two people, realized he was heading for judgment day with a life full of lies, then he shaved and went to work. He did this over and over, and as far as I know, was very good at what he did.
The compartments in his life were well sealed. Whatever master plan it took to juggle all the various versions of himself, I doubt that he ever laid them all out on the table. No, one lie at a time. One room, one compartment at a time.
I want to steadfastly refuse this insidious and compromising temptation to build my life as a collection of rooms that have nothing to do with one another. I am watching it in the lives of others, and it’s frightening. I’ve seen it over time in my own life and it’s poison.
Do you refuse to take seriously what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say? Then build a room where the Bible doesn’t matter as much as your general ideas of Christianity. Does your version of Christianity refuse all critiques and evaluations? Then build a room where your religion is flawless. Do you want to conveniently divide the world into the good people who nod and smile and the bad people who ask questions? Then build another room.
Build a room for your money. Build one for your porn addiction. Build one for your flirtations and affairs. Build one for cheating, greed and racism. Build a room where your rudeness, laziness and dishonesty don’t matter. Build one for your ambitious, backbiting and betrayals of co-workers. Build a room where you get to see your children the way you want to see them, not the way they are. Build a room that exactly fits your church, then lock the doors. Build a room for your politicians and their worldview. Build a room that controls whatever you want to hear and protects whatever conclusions you are unwilling to ever question.
Screwtape says that those parallel lives are usually best maintained with an aversion to “Puritanism,” i.e. religion that actually takes the Gospel seriously, and with a large dose of vanity. In other words, if it feels goods, results in praise, approval and pleasure, let’s build a compartment for it. Once built, don’t let something like the presence of the Holy Spirit make you feel bad.
Or let me suggest another project. Instead of building more rooms, why not tear some things down? Tear out some walls. Become, as much as possible, one person, in one life, for one audience.
When Jesus calls his disciples to inevitable conflict with family or the authorities of the world, he is inviting us to live one life, and not two or three or fifteen. he is asking us to repent of all the rooms we’ve build and to make this world- the Lord’s “House”- the one room we live in as one person.
The community of Jesus shouldn’t promote and encourage our multi-compartmentalized existence, but often it is a primary facilitator of exactly that. I’ve watched more students learn to have a false persona at church than I care to recall. But they received permission and instruction from a community of adults — including leaders — who were afraid to ever live the same life before everyone in one room.
The stories of what happens to Christians as they flame out in notorious sin or simply break down under the pressure should serve as a warning to us of the short-term consequences of compartmentalization. The long term consequences are more serious. We all might consider those persons who are utterly convinced they’ve been living in a room with Jesus’ approval, and to whom his word is “I never knew you.”