“To thine own self, be true,” is a popular admonition. In other words: Don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself. But who am I and how do I discover my true self? Is my true self who I think I am? Or is it what others say? Which of the many voices that seek to define me are accurate? Recording God’s words, the prophet Jeremiah wrote: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? ‘I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.’” (Jeremiah 17:9). Here God highlights that we need help in defining ourselves because we are given to inaccuracy. And He offers Himself as the One who accurately reads our hearts.
We are Made for Connection with God
In writing of Jesus to the church in Colossae, the apostle Paul declared that all things were made by Christ and for Him (Colossians 1:16). If this is true, then only the One who made us, and made us for Himself, can rightfully name and understand us.
We are born with a body, soul and spirit, and our spirit longs for connection with God. We are made in God’s image, with capacities that reflect some of His nature, including self-reflection, intelligence, creativity, moral responsibility, and a need for relationship. All people have the capacity for love and for doing good, together with a universal bent to go our own way apart from God, or to sin and do evil. Each human being has a unique personality, temperament, and strengths. We are all raised in a particular context, namely, that of our family of origin or household and, as such, each of us has a back story that continues to influence us today.
Stages in Spiritual Awakening
The following three stages outline a Christian understanding of spiritual growth as we come to greater self-knowledge.
1) God Takes the Initiative
The journey toward spiritual awakening begins with God and with His initiative to reveal Himself to us. What is true about God can begin to be discerned in the beauty, symmetry, complexity, and wonder of the physical world. The knowledge of God’s majesty, creative power, and existence is innate to us, although the acquisition of language gives us the words to describe what we know. Scripture also describes an inborn morality that points to God. In spite of our human suppression of this intrinsic knowledge of God, He stirs or awakens a spiritual thirst or hunger to know Him.
2) Our Response to God
The next stage of spiritual awakening involves dissatisfaction and desperation. We find ourselves dissatisfied with living life on our own terms and come to acknowledge our need for God. Our desperation for peace and friendship with Him provides the impetus for responding to His invitation to life, forgiveness, and meaning in Jesus Christ. Once we are connected with Christ, then His descriptions, interpretations, and understandings become definitive for us. I know myself truly as I know Christ and live with Him.
3) Growth in Deeper Intimacy with God
Our growth into a deeper intimacy with God often occurs as a result of suffering. This may come as a result of our own choices or those of others, but the processing of our disappointments and losses can lead to healing, freedom, redemption, and the discovery of a deeper meaning to life. This growth is also experienced through God’s continued initiative, as well as our engaging in spiritual practices, including mentorship, community, and spiritual friendship, all of which lead us to greater intimacy with God.
Christian Counseling to Find Your True Self
Christian counseling can be a valuable asset in self-discovery. A Christian counselor can help to pose key questions, reframe conclusions, and offer different interpretations. The counseling room can provide a setting in which you experience a different way of relating, can name and grieve your wounds, and can work through your process with support.
“52 weeks, a long glance,” courtesy of Carmen Lucas, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “The Shower of Hope,” courtesy of Faisal Akram, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)