What if knowing ourselves is the most unselfish work we can do? Stay with me. I know this is especially difficult to think about as Christians who heard over and over again that we are to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and that are hearts are deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9).
Should we take two verses out of all the Bible and declare that the journey to knowing ourselves is off limits or somehow a slippery slope into wherever it is that people fear the slippery slope leads? No, but I did that. I turned my nose up to any kind of knowing yourself language, even when it claimed to be Christian. Knowing yourself was for the worldly and the mystics and those without a strong faith. I know all I need to know about myself:
- I am God’s child (John 1:12).
- In Christ, I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- I am sealed for the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
The book of Ephesians in my NIV Study Bible is a colorful reminder of all I am in Christ. When I was in my 20s, a mentor suggested I read Ephesians and mark all the “I am statements” found there. I marked, underlined, and highlighted over the years when I used that Bible. The Bible is too worn to use now and is tucked safely among other treasured books in my shelves. I believed every one of those statements. I still believe them, and in a deeper way now.
Why do we need to know ourselves if we know who we are in Christ? In Mark 12, Jesus answered one of the teachers of the law when asked which commandment was the greatest. Jesus told him to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love others as yourself.” It makes sense that to love God with all of who we are, that we know who we are. Stephen A. Seamands calls it gracious self-acceptance.
In his book Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service he wrote, “To be a person is to be uniquely who we are and distinct from others. It is our glory—not an unfortunate accident or a temporary arrangement—that we are other, each unique and different.”
Our unique personhood is on purpose and to ignore it, dismiss it, or worse, tell us we should not explore it is to our and the world’s detriment. Seamands quotes Catherine Mowry LaCugna about our image bearing: each person is an “ineffable, unique, and unrepeatable image of God.”
Not only will we love God better when we know ourselves, we will love others better. Jesus said to love others as we love ourselves. But what does that mean? The world tells us it means all kinds of crazy and life-destroying things.
Not That Kind
I enjoy what Seamands wrote about it, “Self-acceptance is not something we talk ourselves into; neither is it a form of narcissism. The Christian perspective differs profoundly from what is advocated in much popular therapeutic self-help literature. As C. S. Lewis says, ‘Your real, new self . . . will not come as long as you’re looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.'”
I’m asking the Holy Spirit to guide me into this gracious self-acceptance. I do know that if we are the workmanship of God that Paul says we are, if we are fearfully and wonderfully made as David claimed, and since God made man and woman in His image and declared that it was good, then we’re worth knowing and loving.
I’ll write more about this in the next installment of Monday School, until then here’s something to ponder:
…although life is short, it is enough time to come to understand where you have been and where you are going.Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith