The Purpose of Self Reflection
|Spiritual writers for centuries have told us
that the deeper we go in the knowledge of ourselves, the closer we come
to God. As we get to know ourselves more thoroughly, we come to
discover a false self and a more authentic self. Thomas Merton
writes in New Seeds of Contemplation, "The only true joy on
earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by
love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of
every creature and in the core of our own souls."
Let me illustrate the fruit of self reflection with some of my own struggles to be free from my false self. I was raised in an alcoholic home. My way of coping was to try to be perfect or to hide out. This pattern of relating to others and to life has been ingrained in me for many years. Without realizing it, I chose paths that allowed me to "hide," for example, always Vice President, never President. This way I was never under the magnifying glass of others where my lack of perfection might be noticed. Then came a remarkable event just this July--my first book was published.
You may not realize it, but authors must do the bulk of promoting their books even well-known authors such as Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. This has thrust me into tension with my false self. Through dream work, I have recently been brought face to face with my character defects which are signs of the false self. Fear of failure is one of these defects. When this fear gets triggered, and my old feelings of shame arise, a kind of paralysis happens, and I procrastinate taking ordinary steps to promote my book. In order to shed this part of my false self, I am having to "let go and let God." I do this through prayer, attendance at Mass, and reading spiritually uplifting books, including scripture. This helps create an inner climate more conducive to courage and trust. I also have to sort out healthy shame, which says I am limited by my humanity, from unhealthy shame, which says I am worthless. Peace comes with asking God for help to accept what I cannot change and for courage to change what I can.
Another symptom of my false self is fear of rejection. Keeping my friendship circle small and my public self hidden away, I have been able to decrease this fear. Yet, in order to promote the book, I am being invited by God to shed this too small identity, and risk rejection anyway. This means I need to actively trust God, ask for God' grace of courage, and intentionally, with faith and some trembling, deepen and enlarge my friendship circle.
|With a good support system of healthy
friends, any experience of rejection in the public sphere will not be
devastating. I can ask friends for help which is something adult
children of alcoholics rarely think to do. All these actions are
ways of shedding that false self.
The more I am able to acknowledge my false self and ask God for help, the more I am able to release my true self, the self created in God's image. I need others to help in the process as well. This is a way of bringing the reign of God in me and through me to others and through others to me.
Jesus bumps up against the false selves of a paralytic and of the scribes in Matthew 9:1-8. He comes into his home town and finds a paralytic lying on a bed. Jesus sees the faith of those carrying him and says to the paralytic, "Take courage, my child, your sins are forgiven." He confronts here the false self of the paralytic--fear and guilt. As he does so, the scribes accuse him of blaspheming. He confronts their false selves--holding to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law--with his Messiahship. The result was healing for the afflicted one and praise for God. Jesus and those with faith demonstrated the true self, the self at one with God. A breakthrough demonstrating God's reign was the result.
If we are constantly busy, if we choose the path of less risk, if we surrender unknowingly or consciously to our false self, we block the Life of God coming to us and through us to others. Picking up our cross has a lot to do with facing our reality by taking time for regular self reflection, by acknowledging our character defects, and getting to work on them with God's grace. Many of us are helped by spiritual direction, because facing our inner demons is too much for most of us alone. If you have been awakened to your need for spiritual growth, seek out a spiritual director and let him or her support you, encourage you and walk with you into the freedom of God's merciful love for us all.
Nancy Pfaff, MA, received her master's degree in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. She provides spiritual direction to individuals. Her new book, Light & Fire, is a true story about a pastor's spiritual journey from birth through to retirement. You can reach her at (775) 560-3030, or e-mail her by clicking here