The ancient Greek philosopher Thales, like all of his contemporaries, spoke of the importance of self-knowledge. Yet, he would be the first to point out that it may indeed be the hardest thing to attain. I think when it gets right down to it, so many people are just not willing to take a good, hard look at themselves. They fear what they might discover.
However as I mentioned in last week’s blog, if we want to be healthy and care for our lives, we must first understand our lives. But how do we go about this?
I remember many years ago taking the Myers Briggs test. It provides differing psychological preferences in how people see the world. It helps you understand yourself and helps you figure out why you repeatedly stumble into the same self-defeating patterns. One of the most popular self-awareness test today is called the Enneagram test. I highly recommend it.
I remember a number of years ago, I learned I was an introvert. It was somewhat of a life-changing discovery in that I learned being with large groups of people for an extended period of time would deplete me. On the other hand, spending time alone would energize me. I did not realize this until I learned I was an introvert.
A second way to better understand yourself is to welcome constructive criticism from others, particularly from your spouse. I think I have learned a great deal about myself from the constructive criticism received from my wife. In fact, I suggest whenever you receive any type of criticism that you stop and ask yourself, “Could they be right?” Solomon says in Proverbs 15:31,32 “He who listens to life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise . . . whoever heeds correction gains understanding.” Solomon is quite clear in the book of Proverbs that wise people welcome constructive criticism into their lives.
In my life, I daily convert into a prayer Mathew 7:3,4
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do you not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
and ask God to show me the logs in my life that I am blind to. We so easily do not see the flaws and sinfulness in our lives. This is what David prayed in Psalm 139:23,24.
“Search me O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts and see if there is any offensive way in me . . .”
It strikes me that if David prays like this, why shouldn’t I.
Over the years God has been faithful to answer this prayer and I must admit when He does, it is not pretty. However, it strips me of my self-righteousness and it humbles me, which is clearly what I need.
Finally and most importantly God enables us to know and understand ourselves through reading the Bible. God uses the Bible to speak to us in various ways. Hebrews 4:12 tells us He uses His word to “. . . judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” In other words, He uses it like a spiritual mirror that shows us our sinfulness, particularly those that involve the motives of our hearts.
One of my favorite stories on the power of the Bible is in the life of Emile Cailliet. He was born in a small town in France. He grew up agnostic, with no religious instruction of any kind. Until he turned twenty-three, he had never even seen a Bible.
He served on the front lines in World War I and witnessed unspeakable atrocities. He reached a point where he truly believed he was destined to perish. As he reflected on the miserable conditions he found himself in, he realized how inadequate his views were on the human condition. And he happened to be standing next to his best friend who took a bullet in the chest and died. Cailliet was later wounded himself and confined for quite some time while recovering in the hospital. After he recovered, he returned to his graduate studies and began to think back on his experiences in the war.
During long night watches in the foxholes I had in a strange way been longing—I must say it, however queer it may sound—for a book that would understand me. But I knew of no such book.
He, therefore, decided to strike out on his own, and write his own book, a book that would explain the human condition. He collected writings and passages that seemed to fit into his book. As time passed, he looked forward with great anticipation for the opportunity to read this precious anthology that would help him understand himself.
The day arrived; he sat down under a tree and began to read, only to experience a sobering disappointment. He realized that instead of speaking to his true condition, these passages only reminded him of the context in which he had chosen them at various times in the past. His life now was so very different from those younger years. Cailliet realized that “the whole undertaking would not work, simply because it was of my own making.”
That same day, as he returned home, dejected and dispirited, he found that his wife had come into possession of a Bible. While strolling their child in a baby carriage, she had encountered a minister who handed her a Bible that was written in French. Though Cailliet had been adamant that religion would be taboo in their home, he eagerly grabbed it from her. He recalls:
I literally grabbed the book and rushed to my study with it. I opened it and “chanced” upon the Beatitudes. I read, and read, and read—now aloud with indescribable warmth surging within . . . . I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me. This was the book that would understand me! I needed it so much, yet, unaware, I had attempted to write my own—in vain. I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the Gospels. And, lo and behold, as I looked through them, the One of whom they spoke, the one who spoke and acted in them, became alive in me.
Cailliet eventually became a Christian. He went to seminary and became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and then Princeton Theological Seminary.
In the Bible, he found the book that truly understood him and therefore enabled him to recognize who he really was.
I recently read that a key feature of wisdom is being in touch with reality and that the one reality that is most crucial to know is: Who we are. I pray this will happen in your life.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.