Thomas Merton, the Cistercian monk, writes in his book New Seeds of Contemplation that the only true joy in life is to escape from the prison of our false self. That sounds like a great plan, particularly to someone who's in a prison, but how does that work? Merton would say that the way to escape from that prison is NOT to focus on trying to be our "true self." That's because the true self that we'd create on our own terms is just as sick and imprisoning as our false self.
It appears that becoming one with the love of God, what Merton describes as our true self, is a process of not thinking how we can be our best, but to forget about ourselves, and even God, long enough to focus with loving attention and care on those people whom God places right in front of us. Yeah, those people.
That might seem odd to forget ourselves and our relationship with God even for a moment. That seems contrary to what we've been taught most of our lives about our need to focus on God. But this is more about how we allow God's love to shine through us so it becomes the focus of who we are.
It's important to see all things, including ourselves, in the light of who God is. So coming to terms with the nature of God is the foundation of understanding. Too often we think of God as another person in our lives. Now granted, maybe he's the best and most important person, because he's God, right? But if we're tempted to think that God is just that best person, our love for Him will be adequate if it's simply deeper and more sincere than our lesser love for all the other people in our lives. That's really not that hard because...let's face it, it's easier to love God than to love our neighbors. Unfortunately it just doesn't work that way.
God is not the best person in our life; God is our life. As Chris Green writes in Surprised By God, "We are not merely with Christ, we are in him and he is in us in such a way that we are the temple of the Spirit and the Father is at home in us." Read the apostle Paul's letter to the Colossians here if that sounds weird.
In the truth of Christ's good news we prove that the life of God, whom we cannot see, is alive in us by loving our neighbors, even our enemies, whom we encounter daily. There is no other way to becoming our true self. When we can live consistently being one with the love of God, we'll discover that we have received other gifts. We will approach life with the newfound joy that Merton writes about. Our life will include an expanded sense of gratitude, a deeper faith and greater hope. That's just the way it works.