finding self and finding faith

It’s 9am on a typical Thursday and there I sit, on my mat, legs crossed, eyes closed, listening to the yoga instructor urge our class to find an intention for the day. “What is your intention? What do you need to know about yourself to thrive and live in peace today?” She asks.

Beautiful. Some movement, breathing, and a question that causes us to examine ourselves…love it. This question isn’t any different than one that would come out of my mouth at the beginning or end of a bible study. These are the big, deep, and formative questions that mold our spirituality and inner self. They create in us self-awareness and mindfulness, and can bring us into the present moment. What is more needed in our society today than that?

For some religious people these sorts of questions can be invasive, scary, and rather than attempting to honestly answer these questions they are passed off as new-age, psychobabble, or given some other minimizing label that places them outside of their sacred circle that feels comfortable and in line with “orthodoxy.” In my opinion, however, there is nothing more orthodox than asking a question that beckons a deep and honest answer; an unashamed look at our inner self, a non-judgmental curiosity about our human condition.

Undoubtably there is a trend surrounding us, a valuable one at that, that is pressing the general public to wake up to the negative stigmas around mental health; to understand why the epidemic of mass shootings is occurring around our nation, why the suicide rate in our millennial generation continues to climb, and recognize the constant conversation in media, podcasts, churches, about crippling anxiety and depression that plagues our minds and daily life. And its good…the conversation and normalization around these ideas is massively needed. 

The lack of self-awareness I see in myself and those around me is startling. As humans, we wake up, go about our daily life having little self-awareness of why we do what we do, why we say what we say, and have no clue how our past, childhood, family life, schooling, and traditions effect how we live. From how we make coffee in the morning, how much TV we watch, how we relate to friends, and why we like or dislike the careers we have, are mostly birthed out of patterns we have learned over time, from ourselves or those around us. We live largely unaware of the “why” behind why we do what we do. Until we really stop and ask ourselves the hard questions, our tendency is to just keep plugging along, staring at our phones and thoughtlessly responding to trolls on Facebook, not curious why we respond how we respond. Most of us don’t take the time to ask deconstructing questions until we are forced to by life’s circumstances.

So what we know is that these self-examining questions are vital and necessary for growing spiritually. This is why professional counseling is such a rich experience; because we make time to ask and answer the diagnostic questions that inform how we live. As Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is a life not worth living.”

Socrates said this because the unexamined life is a life formed by familiarity, mindlessness, and unintentionally (which breeds unwise decisions, reactionary responses, and twisted value systems),

rather than intention, purpose, and passion (which breeds thoughtfulness, consideration, and a decrease of self-centeredness).

As a part of our local church before you officially enter into the community, there is a conversation around the sacred Enneagram personality profiles. This in-depth and highly respected curriculum is one of the most helpful tools in understanding our personalities and how they work with others. Our community mandates people do this because without knowing yourself well enough and asking the hard questions about yourself, it is difficult to know where you might need real healing and how you personally contribute to the whole community.

All of this is a part of our duty as adults: to grow aware, critical, and mindful of why we are the way we are.

But within this conversation there lies a stumbling block.

All of these ideas in many ways can be summed up as knowledge. And knowledge can only take us to a certain point in our journeys. It can inform us, open our eyes, and validate something we have experienced. It can show us something we’ve missed, haven’t seen, or lived in ignorance from.

But, knowledge can only take you to a place of information. It cannot take you to a place of risk and a place of faith.

As one wise person once said to me:

“Awareness is necessary but insufficient for change.”

or even further…

“Self-knowledge is necessary but insufficient for faith.”

WAIT! STOP! Dwell on that for a minute…

Knowledge can tell you that a relationship needs mending, but it can’t make you mend it.

Knowledge can tell you that you need to feel free, but it can’t actually give you the freedom.

It’s like hiking down a trail in the woods and you come to a river that can only be crossed by walking through it. Knowledge of self takes you to the river bank. But it is faith that allows you to wade out into the water. Knowledge says you have to get wet to get to the other side, but it is faith that causes you to test the theory; to walk into the unknown; to surrender to the uncertainty; to let go of what you think may happen.

“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Hebrews 11:1-2

Active faith is the space where real, deep, true, authentic, life is found. It is the place where we encounter God tangibly, deeply, and intimately. It’s where we walk past the point where knowledge has taken us and step into the uncertainty and surrender of what we may encounter. It’s a release of focus on self. It’s surrendering of grasp on the situation and placing your trust in something else, or someone else.

This is where the challenge lies for us:

the search for self (or knowledge) can be never-ending; and without moving into a place of faith, we can find ourselves endlessly searching ourselves for answers. I personally live in a modernistic culture where faith seems like the last thing people would participate in. Folks would rather feel self-reliant and in-control before releasing their understanding to God and participating in a path of surrender. Strong willed and overly rational, they search the bookshelves day in-and-out for more information that would help them make sense of life. But the truth is, existential crises must be healed by the creator of our existence. That is the pathway of healing, and the pathway of healing is faith.

What I see day-in and day-out in my life and the lives around me is this:

no matter how much we know ourselves

no matter how well-adjusted we become

no matter how many therapy sessions we have

no matter how many relationships we reconcile

no matter how many times we look inward

no matter how many self-help books we read…

there is a moment where the energy of finding self must give way

to the journey of finding faith.

Anything but faith only leads us to more work.

We cannot know God well without knowing ourselves well. We cannot know how our greatest insecurities and wounds can be healed until we study them carefully. But there is moment for us all, when we are beckoned into a different kind of knowing, asked to join the ancient tradition that thousands of others have walked: stepping into the rest, peace, and active faith of believing that we don’t know and can never know all the answers. God himself invites us to walk into a deep knowing and understanding of ourselves and then continually invites us deeper, further, to a place of legitimate freedom, discovering mystery, and relentlessly placing our trust in Him, who holds us.

This is the difference between finding self and finding faith.