Know God, Know Thyself – Augustine, Calvin, and so many others…
Of all movies–Runaway Bride pops into my mind right now. It seems to be on TV every now and then; I catch glimpses of it as I flip channels. I think though I’ve only seen it once all the way through several years ago. Forgive the spoiler: but in the movie, Julia Roberts character jilts many grooms because she doesn’t know who she is. Until she is able to embrace her interests (cool pipe lighting fixtures), her preferences (how she likes her eggs), own her behavior (serial jilting), only then is she able to be a part of mutual giving and receiving relationship—only then is she able to marry.
To some extent, this is true for me too. I don’t think it matters how secure a person is or seems—I think even Mother Teresa would have said that she was still discovering who she was in Christ. Christ is constantly making us new—constantly molding us more like him and into the “new self” that the Apostle Paul talks about. This new self is no cookie cutter image of A Generic Christian Person—it is our individual selves freed more and more from sin and the things that hold us back; it is our individual selves even more truly ourselves! He is always moving us in this direction, encouraging us in this direction—though perhaps it is more evident to us when we allow him to cooperate with us more fully.
Knowing who you are means allowing for experimentation: to play, discover, try, make mistakes and step out of what is expected. Knowing God’s love and making him Lord over my life gave me the freedom to do just that my freshman year, and consequently I dropped my medical school plans. Following Jesus to me meant examining my motives for my choices and activities. For me, it meant questioning why I was pre-med, and for me, the only reason I had deep down was status. I liked that doctors were respected, made a generous income and could “help” people. When I really thought about it though, there was nothing in me that wanted to help people in that way. And though I am really happy to see many dear friends fulfilled today as physicians, God has showed me again and again that this profession was not for me. Following Jesus means honoring the interests and gifts he put in me. Following Jesus means honoring the little girl who read profusely, who primarily was interested in the real stories of others, and how others lived. Following Jesus means going with the flow of how he made me and my interests.
It came with a cost of course. I remember being home from college, and bumping into a church mom in a parking lot. “Oh, Grace, I want my daughter to be just like you, to go to Stanford just like you. What’s your major by the way?” I remember her face falling as I told her I was studying history. My reputation and respectability took a big hit because I was trying to be true to myself, true to following Jesus.
Knowing who you are means knowing your preferences also, and when Christ became my Lord my freshman year, I really had no idea what I preferred. I had never been encouraged to have preferences, let alone act on them—not that they didn’t leak out here and then. Going to Stanford was my dad’s choice, not mine. A childhood of awful haircuts—my late grandmother really liked my hair permed and short—and being told what to eat and wear. I don’t want to overstate things, but it really did take some years of experimentation (and still I am learning) to figure out basic preferances. God gave me the freedom to step out of the expectations of others and freed me to pursue my own. Watching others freely state their preferences modeled to me what that freedom, that permission would look like.
Knowing who you are means knowing your behavior, your modus operandi. Julia Robert’s character jilted I forget how many grooms, and for some reason, it was hard for her to see this pattern. Only when she overheard her neighbors speaking nastily about her, discouraging her from expensive wedding perephanilia, did she hear it—but not without it hurting her first. It is hard for us to see our behaviors, especially ones that we would rather not see. It is hard for me, but God’s love makes it safe to see. God loves unconditionally and it is in the midst of this love that I can see my weaknesses, and know that God loves me.
In college, among my mountain of weaknesses, I learned that I was really awful at listening to people. And as God convicted me deeply to love my neighbors, that the Great Commission is about loving, seeing, respecting your neighbors which means people are the most important thing to God—I really needed to learn how to listen. I still need to discipline myself to turn off my own thoughts, to really listen, to consider where someone is coming from, to put myself in his/her shoes and still know that I will never be able to identify completely with what what he/she is going through. Listening is letting that person be on their own terms, is about allowing that other person be a gift to me, is about allowing that other person show me God. If I do not listen, do I really care? For Julia’s character, it was painful to hear what her neighbors were saying and to own the reality of her behavior, and it was for me too—but in Christ we are safe. In Christ, we have someone to go to with our hurt and we have someone to tell us what He really thinks–what is really true and matters. In Christ we have someone who can truly transform us, especially if we allow him to. He loves us so much, he wants to grow us.
Christ gives us the freedom to know ourselves—he wants us to do this, because it is part of making us even more His, even more new! In and through and because of his unconditional love, he gives us this freedom. And it is in knowing ourselves, that we also know God. In learning who we really are we learn who God is. As we learn of our limitations, as we learn of our unspoken expectations on life, ourselves and others, we learn who we really are and of our need for God. As we learn of our capacity, of what our minds and bodies can do, we wonder how this all came to be and are pointed to our Creator. Knowing ourselves helps us know God. Knowing ourselves is part of how God makes us new.