I have known for some time how important self-knowledge is to spiritual growth. But it is only lately that I have begun to realise why. Here is what I have learned.
Other people aside, there are at least two parties that know me really well. One of them is God of course. He created me and he knows me intimately. He sees my every gift and my every weakness and loves me utterly. The other one is Satan. He knows me very well too. He knows my strengths – which he strives to distort so that it increases my ego; and he knows my weaknesses – which he never fails to exploit and attack.
God wants me to come into his light so that I can see myself as he sees me. He wants me to see him look unflinchingly at my sinfulness and be able to see the love and delight he still has in his eyes because that’s the way he loves me. He wants me to be able to look honestly at my own sinfulness without fear, knowing that his love will perfect me if I let him.
Satan, on the other hand, wants the opposite. He wants me to keep my gaze locked on my virtues and strengths so that I can convince myself that I am worthy of God’s love. He flatters me about how good I am so that if I were to grow in virtue in some areas, he can always count on pride to sink me. He wants me to keep my eyes averted from my weaknesses and sinfulness so he fills my heart with fear. He fans the insecurity in me that whispers lies to me – the lies that tell me that I am unworthy and a failure because of my faults. These fears tell me not to look into the dark caverns of my soul for I just might find evidence (hence confirmation) that I am not a good person and hence unworthy of love.
God’s Spirit tells me that I am not the sum of my successes and failures. He gives me glimpses of a deep freedom that comes from Him alone – it is the same freedom with which holy men and women have joyfully lived and died for him because they knew they were loved by Him.
Satan is a worthy adversary. He tells me, “You’re going to make mistakes. And when you do, people will criticise you. You know how many times in the past you’ve tried to do good and ended up judged or misunderstood. Are you really sure it’s worth it? Do you really want to risk being alone and friendless in the world just for the sake of loving… You Know Who? Besides, you’re a screw up. You can’t make it. Why bother?”
Oh I have believed the lies for so long. And I have cowered with fear from my own darkness. I take so many criticisms personally and nothing hurts more than realising how little people know me that they would readily believe the worst about me. For far too many years of my life I have given Satan this edge to exploit – my deep insecurity and need for approval and affirmation from others, and my fear of making mistakes. Far too often have I run from myself and others and tried to be less of myself so that I would not attract attention (and hence, criticism).
Well, I have had enough. No more cowering in fear that my true self is unlovable. No more trying to measure my worth by the regard and affection of others. No more pretending that I’m ok where I am not, and no more false humility pretending to be weak where God has made me strong. No more being paralysed in making a decision or taking an action because I am afraid of being misunderstood, misinterpreted, or judged. I have learned that no matter what I do or don’t do, no matter how hard I try or how pure my intention may be, people will see what they want to see. Sometimes they put me on a pedestal and make me a far better person than I am, other times they make me out to be much worse than I am (and I am learning to laugh through the pain at this because it can be so absurd even as it hurts).
I have learned that if I let God show me who I am, he will teach me to love myself the way he loves me. And when I am aware and unafraid of my flaws and sinfulness because of Him, I will be much better able to withstand Satan’s attacks of discouragement.
So as I ready myself to welcome the Christ-child this Christmas, I shall remember that He comes as Immanuel. God is with me, and He will teach me not to be afraid.
Yes, I will not be afraid anymore. I have only this life to live. I will be ME, hidden in HIM – IMMANUEL.