Day #13 – Self Awareness: Staying Involved with your Soul

“What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.” Psalm 51:6

There has been a huge interest and surge in the last several years in self-awareness assessments. No doubt many of us have taken those assessments such as the Myers-Briggs, DISC inventory, Strengths Finder, Enneagram, etc. and found them to be helpful in adding to greater relational health and emotional vitality. We like knowing the way we are wired and living from our strengths. I do too. These assessments play to our best selves.

It is much more difficult to take a look at the hidden things bubbling beneath the surface of our lives. We are almost afraid to know how we are doing because we suspect we are not doing very well. Many of us are not used to such inward introspection. We rarely stop to ask ourselves, How is my life unfolding? Who am I becoming? What drives me? So, we often work and live without reflection and with a limited awareness of who we are and why we do what we do. As a result, we are losing our bearings as a people.

Self-examination is one of the premier disciplines during the season of Lent. It is also one of the most misunderstood and under-used of the spiritual practices. Yet, historically, self-examination was a bedrock in the spiritual life and practice of the Church.

Yet, historically, self-examination was a bedrock in the spiritual life and practice of the Church.

Personal faithfulness must include a courageous readiness and emotional honesty to assume that not all of our life is as it appears. I know…seeing ourselves as we are, can be scary. I get that. Yet, what is present under the surface of our lives should not be ignored. Far from being narcissistic, looking more carefully at the role the inner life plays in our lives is an essential practice if we are to live from a place of authenticity, wholeness, and flourishing.

I wrote in my book, All There, “As long as I can remember, I have lived with an awareness of my woundedness. As long as I can remember, also, I have pursued God’s work of healing and the wholeness he offers. Some people live and die in their woundedness. I don’t want to be one of them. Owning my story with all of its brokenness and pain and living vulnerability is extremely hard but not nearly as difficult as spending my life running from it” (Excerpt from All There: How Attentiveness Shapes Authentic Leadership, 150).

A major work of the Holy Spirit is to get us to come out of hiding and deal honestly with all our broken places. Here’s the really great thing: Once those things come to light and we stop to reflect upon those realities, it is never about condemnation, ever. You will always hear an invitation to wholeness. I hope you say yes. Only then do we open ourselves to the possibilities of real change.

Self-examination is prioritizing our well-being. It is hard and requires fierce vulnerability. The practice of self-examination does not come about haphazardly, coincidentally, or naturally. Attentiveness to the condition of one’s life requires deliberate intent, practiced focus, and a trained ability of remaining present to the things that are most real about oneself no matter how that unfolds. I think it is one of the most courageous things we do.

The practice of self-examination does not come about haphazardly, coincidentally, or naturally.

One of my favorite quotes is by author Ruth Haley Barton: “Spiritual leadership emerges from our willingness to stay involved with our own soul” (Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, 23). Staying involved in our own soul is not just for leaders but for all of us who desire to live integrated lives; having the inside even with the outside. I think leaders, however, have a special responsibility to pay attention to their souls. So much fallout in leadership has happened in the lives of leaders and those they serve who have ignored this vital practice.

One of the worst misconceptions is that Christians should never struggle. Someone once said to me, “This sounds so self-indulgent.” Thomas Merton offers a helpful insight: “He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions… (Spiritual Master: Essential Writings, 375). Self-awareness becomes compelling if we are to offer those we love and serve something life-giving, sacred, and real.

This is why prayers such as the Prayer of Confession, the Prayer of Examen (which we will learn this week) become so powerful in becoming a place where our truest identity is formed. The Apostle Paul instructs, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that” (Gal. 6:4-5).

It’s a great paradox indeed. Living well within these tensions is a life-long journey. My desire is for vulnerability, not assuming that all of my life is as it appears, and a willingness to live honestly with myself and trust God’s creative redemptive work in me.

I hope it dispels any uncomfortableness with this inward journey that is probably unfamiliar to us. As we continue, however, to examine our hearts in the light of our Belovedness, we find God is indeed at work and in this, there is hope.

Reflection Questions:

What has been or experience (or lack of) with self-examination.

What sounds inviting?

What makes you apprehensive?

What keeps you from self-examination?

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