As a young undercover cop working in an organized crime unit, I had an assumed name and a state-issued driver’s license. My cover was really good. Even if another law enforcement officer ran me through a national computer database it would not reveal that my ID was fake and issued in an undercover name. I drove a car that was registered, not to a dummy corporation, but a legit physical office building with an undercover secretary in the lobby. Our unit worked in the back offices undetected by an inquisitive passerby. My cover was about as complete as it could be.
When an assignment had me enter a corporation through the normal hiring process with the goal to become involved in a criminal ring or playing cards at a gaming establishment trying to connect with an organized crime suspect, keeping one’s cover story intact was important. Your life depended on your ability to juggle your real-life and a believable false narrative required to back up who you were in your undercover assignment. This was especially important when your credibility was being checked out by some really dangerous people. It was mentally exhausting to always be on your toes making sure your cover story lined up with the case you were working on.
There are parallels to our spiritual life. As a follower of Jesus, there are seasons in our faith journey when we might find ourselves juggling two narratives – who we are in Christ and a false identity we created to survive. We could be afraid to reveal our true selves for fear of rejection and create a cover story to line up with the expectations of other people, or even our unrealistic self-imposed expectations. Trying to juggle differing narratives is emotionally exhausting. It is also spiritually dangerous. It creates a vulnerable inauthentic self. After a while, the lines between the real us and the person we created begin to blur. It happened to me in undercover work. After 18 months, I wanted out. I knew if I went much longer in that assignment, I might begin to compromise the integrity of my true identity.
Our life of faith should never have an undercover assignment. The real us is the place where the Spirit loves to visit and release a supernatural influence only available to those who are honest about their true identity in Christ. Getting honest and being OK with who we are can have consequences. We can lose what we thought were friends. Jobs may vanish and uncertainty can emerge, but in the end, freedom will come. It will be like the day I told the supervisor of my organized crime unit I was done. A few weeks later, I moved back to being a street cop driving a black and white. The false narrative was gone and no longer needed my attention. I felt free and authentic. That was a good day.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Garris Elkins