I picked up this book last week, an old castaway from part of a summer class Josh took while studying for his Masters. I think I teased him about the title when he first brought it home. "The Gift of Being Yourself." Because, how psycho-babble, modern-day, me-loving does that sound? Of course I knew nothing about the book. And I didn't bother to look then either.
I don't know if it is just the time of life I am in or the circumstances surrounding it, as is often the case when a book really comes alive to us, but as I slowly started to work through the pages of each chapter (there are only six), I found myself eating it up, severely challenged, comforted, smacked in the face again, and then prodded, like a little child hiking up a steep mountain trail with someone's hand to their back supporting and urging them on through the most difficult parts.
The Preface had me at hello, comforting me that maybe this wasn't what I had flippantly judged it to be.
"It is a profound irony to write a book promoting self-discovery to people who are seeking to follow a self-sacrificing Christ. It might well make you fear that I have forgotten-- or worse, failed to take seriously-- Jesus' paradoxical teaching that it is in losing ourself that we truly find it. As you read on I think you will see that I have done neither."
He was right. In fact, the entire premise is really leading you on a path to see that in order to know God, we need to know ourselves correctly, truthfully, honestly. And that is plain hard. The only hope for knowing ourselves in this way, is to know God, and to know ourselves as we are created in and known by God. This seems obvious enough if you have grown up around this kind of talk at all. But it is so easy to be dishonest, inaccurate, and absolutely not authentic. So somebody walk me through this please.
"You are more flawed than you ever believed, yet at the same time you are more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever imagined." ~Tim Keller
The trouble is, we are full of all kinds of false selves. Ways we want others to perceive us. Values we hold dear to so that they define us. Pursuits that make us feel special and important. These may all start as good, even God-given parts of our personalities. But sly as we are, we quickly make them into all-important definitions of who we are. And then we become slaves to them. So the the false selves need stripping; they need to be shown for who they are and how we cling to them or create them.
False selves are tricky little things to unmask. There were some helpful and practical tools given to help with this process though, a mixture of perceptive traits to think over, coupled with prayerful reflection and scriptural meditation. I had never heard of the Enneagram before and (being ancient apparently) it seemed a refreshing take on the ever popular personality test categorizations, the focus on which often drive me absolutely crazy. The Enneagram list seemed more helpful, in identifying the core values that you have defined yourself by, and how that translates into the sin you are most tempted by. As well as, how that leads you to be irritated by or struggle with the things you see in others.
Working through this has been a challenging part of the Lent season for me, and I am hardly finished. I think it's a bit like Eustace though in Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the only way to become a boy again after his treachery has turned him into a hateful dragon, is to let the Lion scrape the scales off with his claws. Painful. But hopeful, and good.
The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery by David G. Benner