Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thoughts on becoming self aware

Today is my 35th birthday.  I've been contemplating the implications and wanted to share some of the thoughts that have been bouncing around inside my head.  They all seem to come back to the idea of knowing myself... so here is a collection of the ideas:

The Matrix (1999) depicted the main character, Neo, as a man who had been trapped inside a virtual world his entire life, never knowing that his 'reality' was just a computer generated world.  When he got out of the Matrix and into the real world, he learned that nothing was as it seemed, not even himself.  By technological means, his mind is able to interact with the Matrix and he learns that he has a 'mental image' of himself, or a way of thinking about himself that affects how he looks and behaves.  It is called his 'residual self image', a kind of  sub-conscious way of thinking about one's self.  In my mind, I'm about 19 years old and 180 lbs.  I've got drive and stamina and the world is my oyster.  In reality, I can't do what a 19 year old can do... I've managed to find an extra 80 lbs or so and my get up and go got up and went. 

Orson Scott Card's 'Speaker for the Dead' (1986) introduces a profession, a sort of Eulogist.  The role of a Speaker for the Dead is to research the life of the deceased and then speak about it.  The speech is not to persuade, but rather to reveal, without bias, the person.  The Speaker tries to describe the life of the person as that person tried to live it, the good and the bad, the sterling moments and the flaws.  The deceased will hopefully have the honor of being seen in the entirety of who he/she was, a person.  In addition to being a key theme in the Ender Series of books, this ability to see past a person's actions and see the person themselves is appealing to me.  I don't know if I'm honest enough to see all of my flaws, but I like to think that I am open enough to be able to accept them when they are revealed to me.  Not to be comfortable with having those flaws, but comfortable enough to own them and be able to work on them to be a healthier person.

In the Eragon Series, the structure of the magic that binds the universe together is such that names of things have power.  This is a common enough theme in fantasy fiction, but Paolini utilizes a deeper structure, giving each item in his universe a 'true name'.  Knowing a thing's 'true name' is a form of power over that thing.  Knowing a person's 'true name' gives the knower power over that person.  Knowing one's own 'true name' gives one a special understanding or insight into one's self.  In 'Inheritance' (2011), Eragon is forced to examine himself so he can discover his 'true name' and, in doing so, learns that at least for sentient beings, a 'true name' is both defining and empowering because it is not permanent.  As a person grows, develops and changes, so does one's 'true name' because it is a reflection of the person.  It is the sum of what a person is: the good, the bad and the ugly.  I recall that in a moment of insight in my mid-twenties, I admitted that I was perpetually fearful that someone would look at me and point out that I had no clue what I was doing in ministry and would call me on it.  Every Sunday was shooting from the hip, every interaction was relying on my talent and education to make it look like I was confident that I had a plan.  I didn't always feel that way, of course, but it was an honest feeling.  It wasn't until I hit about 30 that I felt like I finally entered adulthood, that I belonged among capable, responsible adults.  In reading about the 'true name' idea, I wonder what mine would look like if I was able to really see myself as a person and not try to be what I thought others expected me to be.

In psychology, therapists sometimes work to help an individual gain insight into their thought process and how they learned to see themselves a certain way.  Frequently, I'll ask someone who has come to me for counseling how they see themselves... if they like who they are.  Frequently, I'll receive a reply that no, they don't like who they are.  Some are just unhappy with themselves.  Some hate themselves.  Some think of themselves as undeserving of love or friendship.  Interestingly enough, many of these same people are able to have compassion on others, to be gracious to others' failings or flaws and be forgiving to those who have harmed them while at the same time, not be able to be gracious to themselves or see themselves as being worthy of forgiveness.  And so part of the therapeutic journey to healing is learning to see one's self as a person.  No more and no less.

Biblically, I believe that God has a lot to say about how I think about myself.  My self-awareness begins and ends with my God-awareness.  It seems to me that God said I was a lot like him.  Made in his image, in fact.  So, I am a relational being, designed to be in relationship, to crave it and thrive in it.  In Christ, I am given an even deeper way to identify with my creator.  Turns out, I've done a crummy job of staying in relationship with God because of my sin.  Through Christ, I am able to have my sins forgiven and washed away so I can be restored to relationship!  Actually, I am brought in closer relationship with God.  Not only his creation, now I am his beloved child!  What a way to re-write my identity and ground it in relational language!  As a human parent, I have a small taste of what it means to love a child.  But not only a child, I am part of God's family as the bride of Christ.  Being married, I know the intimate relationship of a spouse.  What a way to re-write my identity and ground it in relational language!  Every time I turn around, God is revealing to me how much he values me.  Adopted child!  Beloved friend! I am bombarded with valuing terminology by which God reshapes me, day by day.  My limited ways of thinking of myself are shattered by the powerful evidence that God sees me, accepts me and refines me for his purposes.

I pray that my 'residual self image' is a projection of how God sees me: a broken vessel, refined by his grace to be used in his service.  My hope is that if anyone researches my life, they will be able to use it as a testimony of God's redemptive power for his beloved creation.  If ever I learn my true name, it will be the new name that I'm promised when God is done with me (Rev 2:17).  At 35, I hope I can remember that I'm not just a human being.  I am a human becoming.  It is a process.


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