I remember when my first child discovered her belly button. Having recently learned to sit up on her own, she looked down, and found this funny-looking hole in her tummy. Thus began her journey of self-discovery.
Our evangelical tradition correctly warns us that focusing on self can lead to all sorts of problems. An egocentric worldview inevitably leads to pride, self-aggrandizement, lack of empathy, and other neuroses. Unfortunately, we have taken this subjugation of self to unhealthy extremes.
Some calvinistic traditions have turned self-hatred into a core spiritual discipline.
I grew up in a healthy home with a well-adjusted family. But it was considered downright tacky to think about oneself or talk about oneself, unless it was to identify the motivation behind wrongdoing or failure.
So, the words of Chuck Swindoll felt like a cool breeze on a stifling day when he wrote,
No one needs to hear these words more that parents in the process of rearing little children. The impact they have on a child under the age of ten is profound. These vital, fundamental words are important at any age but critical to little ones. Here they are: Know who you are, accept who you are, be who you are.
True humility begins with an accurate and realistic view of self—strengths and weaknesses, darkness and light—and then making the conscious choice to regard others more important. Without an honest assessment of self, true humility will prove elusive, as pride continually seeks to fill that vacancy.
During the season I have called my crossroads moment, I have been forced to do some honest self-assessment—something I should have been led to do as an adolescent. Parker J. Palmer’s work, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Josey-Bass, 2000), has been an invaluable help.
In this dense little volume, he encourages readers to rediscover our “birthright gifts,” those innate abilities and interests that have always been with us. They offer clues to who God made us, what makes us uniquely special. This, in turn, points to what we should be doing as a vocation.
When I spent a few weeks reminiscing with myself and others who know me well, I discovered a number of birthright gifts. One day, I felt ready to list them out on a whiteboard to see what picture these puzzle pieces might form. What emerged resonated as true and filled me with a sense of calm.
I now know that I will find most satisfaction and achieve greatest success in any vocation, any job, that incorporates these innate abilities and acquired skills. And the relationship is proportional. The more natural ability I can apply, the more everyone benefits: the agency I advance, the people I serve, the people who love me, and myself.
I encourage you to do some reminiscing. What stories from your past reveal natural abilities and interests? Are you trying to “do what you ought” or are being who you are?