Is Self-Awareness Selfish?

I inwardly cringed at the question. She asked me: What are you passionate about in life? As a logic driven individual, I try NOT to be ruled by ‘passion’, because ‘passion’ can be dangerous – unpredictable, illogical, potentially damaging. Following ‘passion’ feels like losing control. I know it’s not always the case, but there you have it, a glimpse of my fear of emotions.

I understand my fears, desires and motivations more now than ever. But, as I pursue greater self-awareness, a few questions haunt me:

Is self-discovery simply self-centered?

Is self-awareness the cosmetic cover-up for self-absorption?

Shouldn’t I be more focused on others rather than myself?

I recall how the Lord has dealt so gently and lovingly with my soul. He has brought me through valleys and put praise in my heart in the midst of darkest nights. He has tenderly formed my heart, shaped my soul. A significant part of His process has included my growing self-awareness; bringing what was hidden in the darkness into the exposing Light of truth.

Yet I am still haunted by these questions. I feel a sense of guilt as I pursue personal growth. Is there really any benefit to understanding myself better?

I’ve taken all sorts of personality profiling assessments that claim to tell me who I am: a melancholy-phlegmatic, INTJ, Thinker-Doer, Blue-Green-Red, Rosebush-PineTree, 5 wing 4, etc…

You’ve probably got a long list of personality labels too.

Personality profiles attempt to give us a language for what can never be fully expressed. The writer of Proverbs describes our inner-workings this way:

A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,

But a man of understanding draws it out.

Proverbs 20:5 (NASB)

Deep water is dark, difficult to plumb, potentially dangerous. Our motivations and plans are often hidden so deeply that grueling work is necessary for anyone, even ourselves, to draw them out. Ultimately, such a task requires supernatural wisdom and understanding. To plumb the depths of the human heart and soul, we must turn to the Maker of all, “for He knows the secrets of the heart.” (Psalm 44:21b)

The wisdom of the sensible is to understand his way,

But the foolishness of fools is deceit.

Proverbs 14:8

No, self-awareness isn’t selfish. Quite the contrary. Self-awareness helps us walk in truth! Unless we seek God’s wisdom to understand ourselves, we live in deception. Yikes! That is not the path I want to take. Give me truth. Give me self-awareness, no matter how revealing and painful it may be. Do you feel the same?

So….

Is self-discovery simply self-centered? No. It is a necessary component of growth in all areas of life.

Is self-awareness the cosmetic cover-up for self-absorption? No. Rather it can lead to the beautifying work of God within us.

Shouldn’t I be more focused on others rather than myself? No … and Yes. Our ability to love and serve others well correlates directly to our own level of health. (More on this to come!)

Self – Awareness is a crucial initial step toward partnering with our Creator in caring for the one, eternal soul with which God has gifted us. I’m chasing it; I hope you are too.

Back to my cringing inducing question. What am I passionate about? More and more the Lord is stirring in me a longing to care for souls and partner in God’s work of healing and growth. Growth in my soul, the souls of my family, my spiritual family, and you! I pray that the words I offer here provide even a smidgen of care for your soul.

I suppose soul care is the emphasis my blogging venture has always orbited, even though it’s just now that I am beginning to put words to it all. I write my heart and soul for you as a way of caring for my own soul, in order that in some way I might help care for yours, too. I write to bring my dark things into the Light, and maybe, just maybe, help shine a light on your dark things too. If my handful of words can somehow help usher you into the Light of Christ, praise God! It’s how I’m Aiming at Heaven.

If the pursuit of soul care resonates with you, wonderful! I’ve got a lot more to share on the topic. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss what’s to come!

Weather Forecasts and Soul Barometers

 

Given opportunity, I will be consumed by consuming. Books, Music, ideas, information. But gorging on input has been hindering my output.

Last month, God prompted me to attempt an ‘input fast.’ I needed to dam the flow of input into my soul, with a very few exceptions, and fill up with Him alone.

So, I finally worked up the courage to be input free for one day.

It didn’t take long for me to encounter blank mental space.

I sat there, phone in hand, quickly checking for time sensitive emails (one of my input exceptions). Then there it was – that moment when I would usually check social media or read more email. But not this time. This time I was face to face with blank space. I couldn’t check Facebook, or Instagram or Pinterest. So, more out of habit than anything else, I touched that blue weather icon.


That’s when the sirens began to blare in my soul. The weather?! Am I so desperate for input that I’d check the forecast over facing silence? Did I just crave knowing something, anything?

Maybe all my input gathering gives me a sense of security because what it really gives me is a sense of control. Being ‘in the know’ gives all of us perceived power.

It seems silly, but that little display of clouds and rain and sun represented my craving for control through consuming input. Checking the weather that day revealed the barometer of my soul. And I didn’t like the tempest I saw.

I began examining this revelation from another angle. What if I didn’t know the forecast? What then?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The wind and clouds and rain will pass through the Northwest Autumn as they always do. Storms and sun will dance across the stage of the sky in precisely the order they’ve been commanded – whether I have a program or not.

And so goes all of life. I try to  know what lies ahead – to control how I get there and how I get through. I believe the lie that somehow my knowledge is required to keep this life afloat, when all along I’m safe in the hands of the All Knowing One.

But there’s more to this weather lesson than finding rest in releasing a false sense of control.

As I ponder, I recognize that joy and delight are sacrificed on the altar of control.

But, there can be childlike pleasure in experiencing the unexpected!

Just a few days ago I woke to a stunningly foggy autumnal morning. It brought me a small thrill to be surprised in such a way. Even now as I write, the blue and gray skies battle above me. And I have the joy of being on the sidelines to observe their swirling dance. And I didn’t know either of these things would happen ahead of time. In this, I find deep pleasure. In the Creator of the unexpected I find deep joy.

No matter how well informed I think I am, only God knows what my next breath will bring. I can rest in that truth, and I can delight in it too!

I’ve checked the weather a little less often since that day. And as I’ve fasted from input on two more days since, my soul barometer is telling me that the tempest is calming.


 

I hope these words have encouraged you to look up, to Aim at Heaven. To receive Aiming at Heaven posts and updates sent directly to your in-box, simply scroll down and click the subscribe button.

Thanks!

Confronting Worry Part Five: Assurance

I was only about six or seven, so I didn’t completely understand what I was witnessing. I stood in the doorway of my parents’ bedroom. I saw my mom, kneeling by the bed with her head pressed into her folded hands. She was praying, but this wasn’t a ‘normal’ prayer. She was audibly crying out to God, begging for His salvation. She rocked back and forth, and cried, and repeated herself over and over again.

It wad strange because I knew my mom was already a Christian. She had trusted Jesus as her Savior in her early teens, after listening to a Billy Graham broadcast. She grew up in a Christian family and her dad had helped start a Christian school and also did his fair share of preaching.

Why was she begging for something God had already given her?

I learned many years later that those were some of the darkest moments in my mom’s life. She had suffered many deep wounds – spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. These wounds led her to anxiety about her standing before God. She doubted her salvation. She feared she had committed the ‘unpardonable sin.’

At one point she sought counsel from a well-known Christian leader. But this leader’s heretical teaching led my mom down an even darker path; she was led to believe that because of her struggles she just may not be one of God’s ‘elect.’ This left her with almost no hope. Hell seemed like her only option.

As I grew older, I began to understand, to a lesser degree, some of those same feelings. Feelings of unworthiness, spiritual uncertainty, doom, and worthlessness. And I can’t imagine someone telling me, in the midst of such  darkness, that because I struggled I just must not be chosen by God to be a Christian. How devastating!

Our Adversary thrills at the chance to plant seeds of doubt in their relationship with the Lord. That doubt can cause crippling worry and anxiety.

Worry about our relationship to God can darken every square centimeter of our being so that even experiencing the best circumstances in life is still miserable. Because why does life even matter if we can’t be sure of God’s salvation and love? What else is there?

If we cannot find rest and peace in Christ, there is no rest or peace to be found anywhere else.

Have you ever felt like God is just waiting for you to mess up? Or that He will be angry with you if you make the wrong choice? Does it sometimes seem like God is constantly putting you to the test to see if you will measure up? Do you fear His punishment? Do you dread His disappointment? Do you feel like you have to be the perfect Christian in order to receive God’s love and approval?

You are not alone.

But when we dwell in these feelings we dwell in lies.

We must continually fill our minds with God’s truth so that we don’t drown in the false feelings Satan delights in feeding to us.

I have learned to be confident in my salvation, but I still often struggle with the ‘now what’ aspect of my walk with the Lord. There are still trials, temptations, difficulties, doubts. I know I am saved but sometimes I don’t always feel loved or cradled in His caring arms. But those feelings are a lie.

The only cure for a lie is the truth.

So, prepare yourself to be invaded with some serious Truth!

When you feel guilty or ashamed:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1

When circumstances lead you to despair:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Romans 8:28

Confronting Worry Part Four: Acceptance From Others

I am judgmental. In those deepest, darkest places of my soul, that do their best to remain hidden, I can chew someone up and spit them out, maybe better than most. I hate that it is a part of me, and I’ve seen the Holy Spirit’s work in that area of my life, but it still lurks – ready to seize the day if I give but a millimeter.

That intimacy with judgment makes me keenly aware of being judged by others in return. I hate that too.

The result is that I have become most cruelly judgmental of myself.

Maybe you know the feeling?

I want to feel love and acceptance. It was an especially agonizing desire in my teens and early twenties. A desire that led me astray. Away from my identity in Christ.

I gave control of my identity to my peers and family. I sought people’s praise instead of God’s. And through that I lost myself. I was comfortable in academics, but insecure in relationships, so I became a friendless good student. I was so anxious about being judged by my peers, so cautious of every move I made, that I made almost no attempt to take any relational initiative. The me God made me to be was swallowed up by the me that craved acceptance.

I was anxiously ill before and during school, church functions, and family get-togethers. I lost my capacity to function as a child of God. And I was an unfit conduit for God’s love to anyone around me.

Maybe you know that feeling too?

We are not alone in these feelings.

The Bible is full of people who worried about what others thought.

Moses was worried about being God’s mouthpiece because in the eyes of man he was no great orator. So he argued with God. (Ex. 4)

The reverse was the case for the prophet Samuel. He took on the role of judge, assuming that God would choose one of Jesse’s tall and handsome sons as the future king, not young David. God corrected Samuel’s misguided judgments. (1 Sam. 16)

Annanis and Saphira sold some property and wanted to look good to others by appearing to give all the proceeds to the church. So they lied. And then they died. (Acts 5)

Peter succumbed to pressure from the Jews and so fell back in to certain Jewish practices that Christ specifically had come to free us all from! He ‘began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision’ (Gal. 2:12) and so failed the gospel. So Paul rebuked him.

And one final example – my twin. Yep, I didn’t know I had one for quite some time, but then I found her. She was busy preparing food and keeping house during Jesus’ visit, while her sister Mary just sat there and listened to the conversation.

Martha. I cringe to admit it, but I see so much of myself in her. Martha was obsessed with duty and responsibility, probably out of an unhealthy concern for what others thought of her. This had a tremendous impact on her decision making process. I can identify, can you?

Martha’s decision to spend her time taking care of the details aroused anger inside of her towards her sister, Mary, who sat listening to Jesus. That led Martha to ask Jesus to reprimand Mary. The audacity! But she didn’t get what she wanted. Quite the opposite. Instead, Jesus reprimanded Martha for neglecting Him and His words. Ouch! Oh, and he praised Mary for her choice to be with Him (that rubs salt in the wound!).

Because Martha let her sense of duty and worry about other’s opinions be her guide, she ultimately ended up displeasing God and missing opportunities with His Son!

(See Confronting Worry Part Two for more on how worry divides our devotion to God.)

Martha gave up control to those she thought would judge her instead of to the One who already loved her.

We give control to those who judge us, and love to those who accept us.

Who is your judge? Whose acceptance do you seek? This is the one who controls you.

In reality, God alone is our judge. It’s because of Jesus Christ that we are accepted by God too! This is such good news! Because He has judged His Son as righteous, and we are in His Son, He has judged us as righteous too. Not only that, He gives us the love and acceptance He has for His beloved Son, Jesus. And living in His perfect love will cast out our worries and fears.

As I have come to let that truth settle down in my mind and heart, it has been easier to fall under God’s control rather than people’s. And it’s been a joy to experience more love between My Savior and me!

I don’t know in what way you may be living for the approval of man. But know that God’s approval is eternal and it’s yours if you have trusted Christ as your Savior! How I hope and pray that you might journey along with me and come to a place of peace and rest in our Heavenly Father!

There is an old hymn that I can’t help but think of as I write about this topic. The title is “Accepted in the Beloved.” I especially like verse two and the chorus:

In the Beloved – how safe my retreat,

In the Beloved accounted complete;

Who can condemn me? In Him I am free,

Savior and Keeper forever is He.

In the Beloved, God’s marvelous grace

Calls me to dwell in this wonderful place;

God sees my Savior and then He sees me

In the Beloved accepted and free!

Let’s live in the freedom God has so powerfully provided for us!

Confronting Worry Part Three: Sustenance

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:25-34

As I have studied God’s Word, considered my life, and talked with others about theirs, I have come to the conclusion that there are three areas of concern that trigger worry and anxiety within us: sustenance, acceptance, and assurance.

I want to begin by addressing sustenance, and hopefully presenting some tools of Truth to guard against worry in this area.

The passage above, from Matthew chapter six, reminds me that in Jesus’ time, just as today, we can all get caught up worrying about whether or not our needs will be met. Food. Shelter. Clothing.

In our privileged society the list might look something a little more like this: job, health, retirement, etc…

If you’re anything like me, you want to make wise decisions that hopefully lead to the best outcomes in this physical and material life. But it can so easily become a worry trap for us. So much so that losing a job or being diagnosed with a disease can lead us down a spiral of anxiety, fear, anger, and struggle against God.

And the hard truth is that sometimes God doesn’t provide in the way we think He should. A

Yet Christ tells us not to worry. But how can we do that? How can we untangle worry from wisdom and become mentally and spiritually unshakable in the midst of troubles (which Jesus reminds us each day holds)?

The answer is in the first part of our passage. “Is not life more than……?”

What can take our minds to that ‘more than’ place? How can we have different priorities and different ambitions than the unsaved who clamor after wealth and power and beauty and comfort?

Hope.

Do you set your hope on retiring comfortably, or on hearing ‘well done my good and faithful servant’ when your sojourning on this earth is done.

Do you set your hope on avoiding all ailments and staving off aging, or is it in working to build His kingdom?

Do you set your hope on a stable, comfortable life, or on the glory that is to be revealed in eternity?

Hope and worry cannot coexist.

You see, hope is what shines through the smile of a poverty stricken young man – who knows that this world is not his home

Hope is in the eyes of a bed-ridden old woman gracefully facing the end of her life.

Hope is in the heart of the missionary who willingly sacrifices his life so that even one soul may receive that same earnest expectation, which is in Christ.

Hope in our Heavenly Father and the glory He has waiting for us is what makes it possible for us to bear up under the heaviest trials.

Why don’t we need to worry about our lives? Because God will provide. And if He chooses not to provide in the physical ways that make sense to the unbelieving, we have an utmost assurance that He has made the ultimate provision in Christ – a provision which provides an eternity of abundance.

If we desire to be wholehearted Christians, we must get this hope thing figured out. We must replace our worry over sustenance with the Hope we have because of Christ in us! We must set our minds on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (Col. 3) and dwell on whatever is right, just, and holy (Phil. 4). We must seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6)

After all, our testimony to the world is not seen when we enjoy good circumstances, but when we have hope in hopeless times. It’s in hardship that the fortitude of our faith can be a witness to the world.

fortitude of faith

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. C.S. Lewis