The Practice of Self-Reflection

Have you every looked in the mirror and been slightly embarrassed because you noticed mascara running down from your eyes or a smudge on your face from working with grease-laden equipment, and you wonder, “How long have I been wandering around today and looking this way?  How many people did I talk to today who were too polite to tell me about my appearance?”  Eventually, however, you push aside any sense of embarrassment and clean up your face so you can look presentable to everyone else you meet that day.  Thank goodness for mirrors!

When it comes to the spiritual life, we also need mirrors, of course not literal ones that reflect our appearance back to us, but practices that help reflect the state of our souls back to us.  It is amazing just how unaware of ourselves we can be, and over the years, I have seen this unawareness first hand, in myself and in others.

As we live our lives, it is very possible for us to sincerely seek after God and try to serve him in the best ways that we can, but be unaware of who we are, what our struggles are, and even what our gifts are.  We can diligently study the Bible, learn Christian doctrine about God and humanity, participate in church activities galore, yet be disconnected from ourselves, failing to hold up a mirror to ourselves and doing the deeper work that would allow us to more fully love God and neighbor.

Unfortunately, such lack of self-awareness can have some pretty significant consequences over time.  When we fail to understand ourselves well, coupled with failing to understand others around us well, ministries can be impeded, gifts and God-given desires can be overlooked, relationships can suffer, and intimacy with God can wax and wane.  We can have good intentions for spreading God’s Kingdom and loving God and neighbor but nevertheless be thwarted in various ways because we have failed to truly “see” ourselves, as well as others around us.  If only we can hold up a mirror to ourselves!

The simple truth is that if we are to progress in the Christian life, we must all admit that we are hot messes in need of divine love and transformation. We can go through life doing all the “right” things – reading Scripture, going to church, serving others, etc. without really knowing who we are, without growing in spiritual maturity, and most importantly, without coming to know and love God in a deeper way.

Yet growing in spiritual maturity and loving God and others in a deeper way is what God desires for us, for this is the path to abundant life.  Thus, we must face ourselves, and not in an abstract kind of way that simply acknowledges the beauty and brokenness of all humankind, but in a way that actually sees and identifies our own unique gifts, wiring, desires, and call, as well as our own unique temptations, frailties, idolatries, and sins.

So how do we place a mirror before ourselves?

We’ll spend more time talking about  this in the future, but for now, let us just say that there are all kinds of ways for us to do this.  We can look to old forgotten tools that have been employed by followers in the past which helped them be self-reflective, tools like solitude, silence, slowing down, the examen, the ministry of reconciliation (also known as confession), spiritual friendships, and spiritual direction.

We can also of course employ some modern tools that are helpful in this regard, such as counseling, therapy, small groups, healing prayer, and mediation (with this last option, in cases where we need help seeing our part in interpersonal conflict).

On this Website, I’ll also pose a number of questions from time to time to encourage us to to hold up a mirror to ourselves.  Let us particularly pay attention to the series of posts found in this section,  Knowing Yourself and the questions that they raise.

We can start asking questions such as “What is the center of my identity? How am I acting out of my false self? How do my habits work in contradiction to my stated beliefs? What are my particular temptations that seem to trip me up? What are my emotions telling me about myself at this time?”

We can also consider, “How has God gifted and wired me? What talents do I possess? How am I uniquely beautiful and beloved? What passions has God laid on my heart? What spiritual season and stages seems to describe my life at the moment?”

As we do so, let us ask trusted friends, loved ones, and mentors to act as mirrors so we can better answer these questions.  With these tools on hand and with our loved ones at our sides, we can make progress in understanding ourselves better and in increasingly embracing the abundant life that God desires for us.

Page Written by Kristen Yates

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