A friend of mine told me recently that some people seem to know God but they don’t know themselves. It’s a controversial statement, if I’ve ever heard one. I mean, how can one trace the ins and outs of the master of the universe but not be in touch with their little old self. Come on. How hard can it be? Apparently, for many, very hard.
The typical Christian has been taught to hide behind a veil of deceit. Now, this is not taught overtly. It is more of an indirect, subtle indoctrination of keeping up appearances. If you say you follow the teaching of the greatest man who ever lived, then you should look the part, right? Seems fair.
But, what does that mean for the average Christian:
If I’m having a bad day, I shouldn’t say it or show it.
If I’m struggling with my sexuality, I’ll pretend that I’m still straight.
If my kids are running the streets, I’ll say they’re not feeling well and can’t come to church this Sunday.
How does this not perpetuate a culture of deceit or, what most know as, a culture of hypocrisy?
Simply stated, if I’m a Christian, I must trade self-awareness for self-denial. To be honest, this school of thought is - for the most part - well-intentioned. We think this is the correct approach because we think 1) we should be more preoccupied with God than ourselves because he’s our only hope to becoming our best self 2) we need to be more focused on the not-yet-realized promises of God than on our current messy circumstances so we can stay sane 3) other people need to be inspired by us, not let down by us, and that’s how they’ll start believing in the power of Christ, too.
Christian Men are in Self-Denial
I’ve known about this self-denial practice for much of my life, yet found it particularly problematic in dealing with the opposite sex.
I would meet Christian guys who, for the sake of maintaining their Christian reputation with me, would not tell me the whole truth about their past and even present experiences. They told me tall tales.
They had a live-in girlfriend three years prior to meeting me but they’d say she was only a roommate.
They’d have serious issues with lust but instead they’d say they were now very serious about living a life of sexual purity.
They’d say that they were a new entrepreneur under God’s calling meanwhile they were unemployed and expecting me to pick up the check.
I got so fed up with their lies and deceit that I became resigned to the fact that Christian men were just frauds. They had big talk but no action. They had their nose buried in the Bible yet their lives were unproductive. They could prophecy, pray, speak in tongues and preach the word yet they were so far removed from self that I couldn’t trust them enough with my heart. They wouldn’t be real with me or, even God, about their weakness. “I’m better off dating a non-Christian guy,” I said. “At least they’d be real with me and with self.”
You go to the strip club two nights a month because it keeps you from sleeping around?
You want to have sex with me on the first night?
You just lost your job and you’re looking for a sugar momma?
Yeah, that’s real. These were their harsh realities, but at least they were self-aware.
When we are self-aware, we are more in touch with reality; people trust and respect us more. So, why is it so hard for Christians to practice this?
Why Should Christians Practice Self-Awareness
Early Christian theologian who developed much of Western Christian thought, St. Augustine, was a man of the cloth who knew the importance of self-reflection yet was also aware of how many shirked this practice.
“People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering,” he said.
I get it. It’s the absent-minded professor syndrome. One becomes so engrossed in the study of a subject like anthropology, biology or Christian hermeneutics that you forget what day it is or that you have to brush your teeth or that you need to get some dinner.
The study of God and his scriptures can be so overwhelming that you can get lost in it. I understand.
But, if you’ve not stopped to meditate on what your frailties are, then – even after you’ve studied who God is – you may still be stuck. Why? You are not able bring these frailties to the God of the universe who is able and also willing to heal you.
So often, Christians have the mistaken belief that they are not to think about themselves at all; they should just feel guilty when they are aware of themselves and, even more, they should not reflect on the wonder of who they actually are today. We think that Apostle Paul’s main teaching of having “died to sin” (Romans 6:2) and to “consider yourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11), means that we shouldn’t think of our weaknesses at all. But the teaching about death is actually death to sin, not death to your present self.
Sam Storms, pastor and writer of the blog post "Self-Awareness and the Sufficiency of Christ," says: “To be “aware” of oneself in the way that I have in mind is to be conscious and forthright about our tendencies and inclinations. To be self-aware is to possess a keen sense of the way we impact other people. To be self-aware is to have a clear grasp on why we react the way we do when we encounter adversity or threatening circumstances. It is to be in touch with how we think and what we value and why we make the choices we do.”
Do you know what makes you tick?
Do you know what triggers anger in you?
Do you know how you react to pain?
Do you know how you learn best?
The fact is that we rely upon self-awareness all the time. When we get hungry, we go and cook what we like to eat; when we get drained by the middle of the day, we go for a coffee run; when we start slurring our words at midnight, we decide it’s time to get some rest; when we’re struck with a brilliant idea, we start making plans to execute it.
In everything, every day, our self-awareness prompts action. Except for when you’re a Christian?
We’ve been silently indoctrinated to think that if we divorce ourselves from “selfish desires,” then we will become more Godly.
On the contrary, folks. The more we become in touch with self, the more we will be grateful for the love of God and all the better we will serve him. It is because at this place we recognize what we need, what he has gifted us with, what we crave and what he has satisfied us with, what he can give and what we are deficient in.
Business Leaders Practice Self-Awareness
Corporate America has already figured this out. I mean, this is the most cutthroat, prideful, I’ve-got-this-under-control kind of context.
Yet, new research by Korn Ferry analysts David Zes and Dana Landis provides a “stalwart challenge to that mindset, confirming with a large body of data for the first time the direct relationship between leader self-awareness and organizational financial performance.”
In “A Better Return on Self-Awareness,” Zes and Landis write “public companies with a higher rate of return (ROR) employ professionals who exhibit higher levels of self-awareness.”
This means that self-awareness is not a soft skill, it’s not just nice to have. Self-awareness makes you more effective as a leader. It’s playing out in the company’s bottom line. I wish that these Christian guys who’ve tried to date me could get a hold of this information.
An executive in corporate America is self-aware enough to know that he is most productive when he has a big breakfast, she is self-aware enough to tell her team not to email her about their desire for feedback but to ask for a face-to-face meeting, he’s self-aware enough to know that it will take 10 days to complete this project and not the two days upper-level management is requesting.
Are we seeing how this can save the company money when leaders are self-aware? So, how much can self-awareness save you in your relationships with others and in your healing process? The same principle applies there, too.
The Proverbs also speaks of self-awareness.
The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. - Proverbs 20:5
The Psalms of David are classic examples of frequent self-awareness, perhaps no more so that Psalms 42 and 43 where he speaks to himself –
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5,11, Psalm 43:5)
Perform a Self-Awareness Check
So, in effort to examine oneself to become more self-aware, why don’t you start here? Ask yourself the following questions:
- What makes you happy?
- What is your greatest strength and weakness?
- When were you most satisfied at your job?
- What irritates you about other people, and how do you deal with it?
- How do you define doing a good job?
- What is your greatest fear?
- What three character traits would your friends use to describe you?
- What's the last book you read?
- What magazines do you subscribe to?
- What's the best movie you've seen in the last year?
- What do you do in your spare time?
- What are your lifelong dreams?
- What top 5 qualities are you looking for in a life mate?
Listen, really be honest with yourself. If you’re forced to give a preachy answer like, “God hasn’t given me the spirit of fear,” know that that will not get you any closer to conquering that fear. Knowing what that fear is will take the power away from it. This way, you can bring it to Jesus who has the power to dissolve that fear with his grace.
Know this. Self-awareness is also vital when we are being led by the Spirit. It comes within our consciousness. The person who is not aware of this, misses what is going on within them, or writes it off as just, ‘whimsy.’
I guess that’s why one of my favorite verses of Holy Scripture is taken from the words of Apostle Paul, a guy who had some of the most spiritual encounters with God yet never was unconscious of self.
After having asked God three times to remove a “thorn from his flesh,” Paul wrote:
“But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
It’s okay to be weak because that’s when you’ve given God the power to make you stronger.