Self-study is hard. It’s difficult to see ourselves objectively. We need God’s help and that of those around us. But once we understand who we truly are in God’s eyes, then we can cope with everything else.
We see this in the lives of two of the Bible’s greatest heroes.
Joseph, the Patriarch, was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, and unjustly imprisoned. But after his release, he rose to the rank of prime minister of Egypt. He told his brothers “You meant it for evil, but God intended it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) His awareness of his place before God enabled him to survive and thrive in slavery and imprisonment.
Paul was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, and left for dead, but in reflecting on his life story said, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:20) His confidence in the face of suffering came from His awareness of his place before God. He interpreted his own life story through the lenses of God’s love, and his confidence before Him.
How do we get this kind of self-confidence before God? By daily building five basic virtues of self-awareness: honesty, introspection, expression, remembering, and forgetting.
Honesty. Not only should we be honest with ourselves about our thoughts, feelings, and actions, but we should acknowledge them to others. John calls this “walking in the light” in 1 John 1: 5-7.
We cannot present one side of ourselves to the world and another side to God. We must show our true self–not without fear of what others will do, but trusting God to defend us.
Introspection. Self-awareness requires self-examination. Regular self-appraisal in the presence of the Holy Spirit makes us aware of our shortcomings as well as our assets and helps us grow in grace and faith.
We have all masked our true nature from others at times, but our biggest masks are the ones we wear when we look in the mirror. We sometimes see introspection as pointless navel-gazing. We whitewash our real motives and make excuses for behavior for which we ought to be ashamed.
But if we are ashamed of ourselves, it is only because we do not yet have the mind of Christ. God has forgiven our past sins. We no longer stand condemned by God. We can look at the future with confidence and hope.
Remembering. Rabbi Joshua Heschel once wrote, “Much of what the Bible demands can be compressed into one word—remember.” We need to remember where we came from, where we are going, and what God has done for us along the way. Remembering our faith story helps us understand who we are and to become aware of what God is doing in our lives.
There are two kinds of memory: long-term and short-term. Long-term memories remind us where we were and where we are headed. These memories lift us out of the daily mess and keep us on the right path through hard times.
Short-term memory helps us during the big tragedies of life. It focuses our attention on the daily blessings of today. Remembering little blessings helps us to endure through coping with major illness, grief, or tragedy.
Forgetting. Forgetting is just as important as remembering. We choose to lay aside those memories that are not profitable to us. Intentional forgetting is not a denial but a choice to exclude from our personal story that which does not add to its ending. We choose to forget sins against us, not because they didn’t occur, but because we simply do not dwell upon them.
Christian self-awareness comes from examining and interpreting our lives in the light of Christ. We put aside the elements of our past that lead us away from Him while remembering what leads us to Him. In this way, we surrender our story to the grace and mercy of Christ.