To Know Oneself
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12
Recently, I needed to complete a survey for a potential platform, and near the end I reached one of those “check all that apply” questions. “In what areas of your life would like support?” With sixteen possible answers, the emphasis in all the questions was the “self.” That stands to reason, since the question was “what areas of your life…?” But as I read through the selections, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps we are a bit too self-involved. With options such as: improve my happiness; improve my mindset; practice self-love; improve my health; get self-care; make more money; reduce my anxiety, and on and on, the selection struck me as… I don’t know… Redundant? Superficial? Immature, perhaps? What do I want, and what can you give me? I checked the box that said, “None of these.” I already think about myself far too much, and I certainly do not require any assistance with self-absorption.
The survey is revealing, though. We are a very self-focused people, and even as we are, it appears we never seem to get enough of “the self” we’re trying to find and to be. It’s almost as if we are on some collective, deep, ongoing search for ourselves in hopes of knowing who we are and what we are about. I don’t think looking within ourselves will lead us to the answer, but the search itself is an intrinsic part of human nature. That we do not up is a promising sign.
Within each of us is the seed of self that never stops calling for its freedom. It is the seed that would break through the buried casing in darkness deep within, then grow above the muck of the soil, reach toward the sun, bend and sway in storms, and be gloriously alive. The seed is the yearning for joy and love, for meaning and beauty, for wisdom and purpose – the yearning to be known as someone worthy and worthwhile. It is the seed of the image of God within every human being. In every generation among all peoples, the kernel of His image will not die, nor will it be satisfied by anything other than God Himself.
Day in and day out, the messages of our culture are loud and repetitive. You should be happy, love yourself, get healthy, care for yourself, have more money, just have more stuff, be worry free, and so forth. All of these resonate with us because we are, in fact, intended for more. Who among us ever thinks he or she is not supposed to be happy? Or is not supposed to have good things? Don’t we all believe we should? That sense of self – the self that expects good things – radiates from seed of God’s image within, calling us to dwell in the Light of the Son and to grow and flourish until we are seen by our Father, until we know that our Father knows us.
Today, we live in what may be the first fully atheistic society. That is not to say that the majority of people have no belief in a spiritual realm beyond this physical world. Rather, daily we are inundated with messages that include no reference to the reality of God. At all. No effort is made to deny God, but instead, He simply is ignored. Indeed, for many in our society, there is no need to think of God because they are certain He does not exist. This “absence” of God in the animation of all things human and social permeates our own lives, seeping into our consciousness in every movie, song, schoolroom, article, essay, and news report.
Slowly, the plans and purposes of God cease to be a factor in our decisions. Our ideas, our morals, our wants and desires, our fears and failures, our disappointments and dreams, all exist in this strange vacuum of the individual self alone. In the end, we “spiritualize” the self and worship a glorified version of the self, not the true God. Still, we do worship because the seed within us is calling to the God we think we do not want.
Trying this thing first and that thing next, dissatisfaction haunts us when the novelty wears off. Always, we want something more we cannot name, and the longing is relentless. Occasionally, the longing is almost hidden, and at other times, the longing consumes us. It is during these times that we quit a job or get a divorce or begin to self-medicate. The whole of American society can be understood as a veritable garden of delusions and pretensions, grown from seeds that cannot break free but push us incessantly from within to be released from the prison of its shell. As Christians, when we hear grandiose lies that distort and destroy humanity shouted across our nation, our hearts should be filled with compassion not condemnation. Condemnation comes easily, but compassion comes from God.
Without belief in God, the world makes no sense. Life has no meaning. There is only nothingness beyond this moment, and this moment is never enough. Even the very best moments of life come to an end, and we are left again with yawning emptiness, searching for distraction and reaching for the deadly.
The search for self and for happiness through constant self-reflection and self-absorption leads us along a pathway to nowhere. We cannot look in the mirror and know who we are. When Paul wrote those words, mirrors as we know them today did not exist. One could look at one’s reflection in polished steel or still water, but the image was dim, unclear, and superficial. The great tragedy in the ethos of contemporary America is that that is how we still see ourselves – dimly, unclearly, and superficially. Medical technology allows us to see the bones and organs of our bodies, but no human instrument can find the soul, that unique image of God hidden within and struggling to reach for God.
Human beings want to be known and want to be seen. Just look at social media! The reason this is so, is because God created us to be known, to be seen, to love, and to be loved. First and foremost, He created us to delight in Him because He delights in us, even at our worst. He created us to be known in the light of His face, to rejoice in the river of love that pours from His own heart to us and through us, and to reflect His infinite joy and life. That is the mirror in which we see ourselves dimly, not the mirror of self-reflection or social media or the opinions of others.
When we search for self without first searching for God, whoever we think we are, we are mistaken. The seed planted within can break its casing, grow into a plant of great strength, and bring forth fruit more wondrous than we imagined possible, but only when we acknowledge what the seed actually is and allow our God to nurture His image in each of us. Once we know ourselves to exist in God’s image and all our unsatisfied longings and dreams are for the light and love of the life of God, the casing on the seed is broken, and we truly begin to grow.
The penitential disciplines of Lent with their emphases on breaking attachments to the world are not for our harm, nor are they encouraged because God wants to make us miserable. To the contrary, the disciplines that separate us from the world are gifts to us, gifts to set us free to seek the face of God, to be truly alive, and to know ourselves in the reflection of God’s love and respect for us.
We can know with certainty that every lie eventually leads to destruction. We also can know with certainty that, when nourished by God’s own Spirit, life of unimaginable beauty and majesty will grow within us, and we will thrive and flourish as human beings – human beings made in the image of God, recreated in the likeness of Christ.
Do not search for yourself, and do not seek your own happiness. Instead, search for your Father, for He knows you, and He will give you more life and joy than you can bear.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
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