With God, self-knowledge enables service in the world
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor 13:5).
My husband loves TV Westerns. After a long day working he winds down with series of old favorites: “Wagon Train,” “The Rifleman,” “Gunsmoke” or his favorite, “The Virginian.”
If you ask him why he enjoys this genre he will tell you it’s because there is an actual story line told with no special effects, the characters are ordinary people with obvious weaknesses and foibles but, at least the good guys, with strong personal values. He sees in them the values of hard work, determination, integrity and justice.
After watching hours of Westerns with him, I have learned there are inevitably gems of wisdom in every show that are worth writing down. Often they are uttered by the least likely person.
One of my favorites is from Festus, the scruffy deputy on “Gunsmoke,” who offered in his twangy, rural drawl, “He’s so nearsighted he can’t see past the brim of his own hat!”
Haven’t we all been there at one time or another? Nearsighted, shortsighted, our vision limited by our inability — or our refusal — to dive deeply into our own hearts and uncover who we really are. Sometimes we are unaware of our need for self-reflection. Other times, we have a sense that unless we look inside and empty all that is not of God, we will fall short of who God meant us to be.
Often, it’s the doing that’s the most challenging. Our contemporary lifestyle doesn’t leave much time for self-reflection or solitude. Even when we are able to carve out moments of time for reflection, our attempts at introspection often bear little fruit. But, how are we to continue to grow and move forward, spiritually or emotionally, if we don’t discover and acknowledge the obstacles in our path?
I have found that my efforts to know myself are more productive when I invite God into the process.
This moment of realization came when singing a beautiful hymn with the parish choir: “O God, you search me and you know me. All my thoughts lie open to your gaze. When I walk or lie down you are before me: Ever the maker and keeper of my days.”
How many times had I sung this hymn before? I thought it was lovely, but it never struck me the way it did during a time when I was struggling with understanding what was going on in my life.
The hymn is based on Psalm 139, a psalm of David who loved God entirely and for whom nothing was more important than a relationship with God. In spite of David’s transgressions, his desire was always to be connected to God.
In the psalms we hear David proclaim his accomplishments as God’s accomplishments, and his sins as the times when he forgot God’s ways, responding always with humility and repentance. In the psalms, said one writer, we can see “the beauty of [David’s] soul.”
When David invited God into the process of introspection, he was asking his creator, the one who already knew everything about him, to reveal the truths that David needed to know about himself. David acknowledges, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.”
Self-knowledge, achieved, like David, through a reliance on God’s revelation, is a special kind of wisdom. It is a wisdom based in truth. As the Kotzker Rebbe taught, “A person often believes something about himself that is not true. Undeceive yourself. Know who you really are.”
For us, as Christians, our self-knowledge begins with opening ourselves to God, but it must result in action.
We are called to move forward in hope and joy, with trust in God’s grace and with courage in spite of the dark places in our lives, to be servants in the world.
“The most important thing that can happen to a person is to encounter Jesus,” Pope Francis has said, stressing that, in addition to the Gospel and the sacraments, “we meet Jesus in our loving service to those in need, those who live on the periphery of society.”