Know Thyself

The primary purposes of seeing a therapist (or counselor, I use the terms interchangeably) can be distilled down into finding freedom and learning about one’s self.

The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilah. It is derived from the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed and the word l’hitpalel, meaning to judge oneself. This surprising word origin provides insight into the purpose of Jewish prayer. The most important part of any Jewish prayer, whether it be a prayer of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise of God, or of confession, is the introspection it provides, the moment that we spend looking inside ourselves, seeing our role in the universe and our relationship to God.

In Christianity and Catholicism, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed the now-ancient practice known as the Prayer of Examen. This prayer involves reflecting on the previous day’s events, becoming aware of God’s presence in them, reviewing the day with gratitude, paying attention to one’s moods and emotions, choosing something about the previous day and praying on it. This practice forces a person to slow down and process events, how they responded, where God is present, and begin to understand one’s triggers, sin, success, fears, etc.

So much of what I do with clients involves helping them to learn about who they are, which is part of the process of growing and living a fulfilling life. God created each of us with specific talents, skills, gifts, and personality quirks to bless others and further his kingdom. So many of us do not take the time to learn about who we are and what makes us tick. Often, it’s easy to pursue the positive traits we have (I have the gift of teaching, I think this way, I’m good at this). What’s harder is taking the time and often painful effort to discover what fears we have, what lies we believe, what we actually like and dislike, and what our priorities are. Similarly, it is default for many people to simply take on the traits/likes/propensities of those around rather than discover what they are all about and who they are.

Self-awareness is a very key piece in learning how to live a fulfilling life. We are constantly growing in to who God created us to be. He gave us an identity, and we ought to give ourselves the space to discover what that is. If we are created for painting, and all we do is go to museums, we are wasting our talents and living in a space of longing and grief that does not have to be reality. Knowing thyself helps us to see our role with others, this world, and with our God. It is a process that can bring up painful feelings and memories, but will ultimately allow one to live with more clarity, peace, and be a rich blessing to others.

Memorials

American culture is noted for its busyness. Friends of mine who have lived overseas in places like Greece, Italy, and Spain are fully aware that life is lived at a much slower pace. Here in America we rush around, often impatiently, trying to get on to the next event, haircut, or simply the grocery store. When we have downtime, it tends to be filled with any number of electronics which serve to numb out and distract, or mindlessly entertain. What might it look like to allow quiet space in to your life for the purposes of reflection and remembrance?

We are fickle people who easily forget, especially when it comes to God. A new challenge in our lives confronts us and the stress mounts. We think about what we can do, what more we can do, to overcome or accomplish in our own power. What Jesus asks of us is to rest in him and trust him. We are asked to remember the good things we’ve experienced from him in the past.

Reflect on past stressful circumstances and think through what you:

  1. Leaned on for comfort
  2. How you derived a sense of control
  3. What lies you believed (I’ll never make it; I’m not good enough; I don’t deserve it, etc.)
  4. What unhealthy behaviors you reverted to (over/under-eating, porn, drugs, anxiety, etc.)

When we look back at hard times and easy times, it’s important to assess what we did and how we thought and the consequences of our actions. It’s also important to note how God worked in the midst of those things. How circumstances may or may not have worked out.  Take some time to think through what God did in the midst of a previous nerve-wracking situation.

When difficult and stressful circumstances arise in our lives, it’s easy to hone in on them and allow the weight and the fear of their imposition to overwhelm us. When we remember, we can choose to shift our focus off of ourselves and our stressful situation and onto the goodness, mercy, grace, and kindness of God. We can choose to see how he is carefully orchestrating every scenario of our lives to make us more holy, and bring him more glory.

Many have heard of Moses parting the Red Sea, but not as many have heard of Joshua parting the river Jordan. In Joshua 4, to show that God was with Joshua, he parted the Jordan’s waters for the Israelites to cross into the Promised Land.  Joshua then instructed the Israelites to create a memorial of that event so that they would be sure not to forget the power of God, his presence with his people, and that he is worthy of honor and worship. They were to stack up some rocks taken from the bottom of the Jordan River. “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4: 5-7).

We can so easily forget things that were hard, but also things that went well for us. Reflecting gives us the opportunity to give honest thanks for what has occurred in the past, acknowledge what has happened in the past, and create our own memorial. Remembering shifts our focus from our own striving to the one who is in complete control of all things. Remembering and giving thanks can bring us to a place of rest, freedom, and greater understanding.