Know Thyself

Image: Tim Wright

 

If there’s any piece of advice I’m taking myself this year and giving to others, it would be this: know thyself.

When we’re in our teens, we’re still figuring out our identity and our purpose in life. As adults, it’s imperative that we have a firmer grasp of who we are and why we’re here.

To know yourself is to fear God; to know Him is to love Him. The one is the beginning of wisdom, the other of perfection. Ignorance on these points is fatal. All other knowledge is indifferent. We are not saved by having it, nor lost for want of it.

— St. Bernard of Clairvaux

This takes careful examination, and it goes beyond an Examination of Conscience (though of course that is best done on a daily or nightly basis). This goes to the heart of prayer. Many things will remain hidden from us, but neither will things be revealed to us if we don’t take the time to allow the Truth work its way in us.

I’m not calling for more of the obsessive self-absorption we see so much of on social media. Despite frequent usage of the hashtag #KeepingItReal, it’s often still a curated self that we present to the world. Social media, ironically, teaches us to look in the opposite direction — at everything and everyone else, and not at ourselves, and definitely not INTO ourselves.

Who are we really? The only real ME is the me that God sees, stripped of everything, of all the walls I build around myself, of all the masks I wear. Lent is about putting to death what is not of God… but we cannot put to death what we do not recognize in ourselves. It goes without saying that getting to know ourselves takes humility and trust in the One who sees us as we are.

Know that one grain of pride suffices to overthrow a mountain of holiness. Be humble, then, and endeavor to know yourself. — St. Paul of the Cross

We are often afraid of silence, so we fill the voids in our days with empty entertainment and chatter. Taking the time to truly know oneself can be painful, and that’s why we avoid it; sometimes it requires dredging up memories we’d rather leave behind. But often our fears need to be confronted at their root so we can work on eliminating them. We need to look at old habits, old patterns of thought that tend to enslave us. We can only work on detaching ourselves when we know what we are inordinately attached to. Understand that a state of perpetual distraction is exactly where the enemy wants us to be and to remain.

It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, if a person were asked who he was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. — St. Teresa of Avila

What am I afraid of?

What makes me genuinely joyful?

What gives me real peace of mind?

What light do I have in me that I haven’t shared with others?

What talents have I not taken the time to develop?

What things do I keep saying no to because of time, and yet I know will make me a better person?

What situations make me restless?

What area in my life have I not entrusted fully to God?

What do I constantly seek to control? What should I choose to let go?

What makes me hopeful?

What am I confused about? How do I attain greater clarity?

What unrealistic expectations do I have of myself, that I constantly set myself up for disappointment?

We are unknown, we knowers, to ourselves… Of necessity we remain strangers to ourselves, we understand ourselves not, in our selves we are bound to be mistaken, for each of us holds good to all eternity the motto, “Each is the farthest away from himself” — as far as ourselves are concerned we are not knowers. — Nietzsche (even nihilists chanced upon wisdom from time to time)

The answers to these questions won’t come immediately, or all at one time. But Lent is a great time to ponder them — we have 40 days. If we’re going to “overthink”, might as well make it fruitful, and think on these. It’s a conversation worth having. It’s the only way to keep moving forward in our spiritual lives.

There’s a popular meme that’s been going around for a while. It says, “If you could take a selfie of your soul, would you find it attractive enough to post?”

That’s a good question to ask, sure, but an even better question is

“If you could take a selfie of your soul, would you even recognize it?”

O God, I pray You to let me know my self. — St. Augustine


Recommended Reading:

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila.

The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, Cardinal Robert Sarah.

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