“Know Thyself”

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There are a lot of things I wish I had known in my 20s: the rather unflattering nature of khaki trousers; the importance of sleep; the gift of maintaining a size 8 whilst eating Taco Bell and frozen pizza; the joy of consuming actual fresh vegetables. But right at the top of that list? Myself. I wish I had known myself better.

It would have saved me a lot of anxiety, tears, and guilt about things over which I had no control, and empowered me to take joy, be confident, and grow into many things over which I did.

“Know Thyself.” This ancient maxim, written on the temple of Apollo in Delphi, and used by several of the ancient Greek philosophers, remains one of the wisest pieces of advice handed down through the ages. (It is also one of the most difficult.)

Why is it so important to know yourself?

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Unexpected Change

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Simcha Fisher wrote a great piece recently, reflecting on how a diagnosis of diabetes in their family has changed the way she thinks about food – but not just food. The whole notion of how one way of thinking might be just fine in one particular set of circumstances, but not in another, made her question how freely she remains open to change in her spiritual life.

“There is one constant: We must know, love, and serve God. But the specifics are surprisingly subjective. What God wants from me, to keep my soul nourished, is not necessarily what He wants from you.”

“This is a familiar lesson. Maybe we’re comfortable with the idea that we are one body with many members, and that diverse vocations are a feature, not a bug. But are we aware that our own vocations may be good and useful and pleasing to God for a while — and then may abruptly change? That the thing that used to nourish me yesterday might suddenly become the last thing I need?”

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Choosing Margin in Life

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Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about hurrying and stress and the kind of life I want to lead. I don’t thrive on being rushed – in my activities or in my soul.

I didn’t come to this realization until later in life: when I was younger, I just rushed around feeling low-level terrible, occasionally falling quite ill, and being generally irritated with people when I was in a hurry, which was most of the time. Continue Reading

Do We Always Need to “Build Character”?

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I had surprising conversation with a friend recently. She asked me about life consulting, and I was telling her how I might advise a mother who is overwhelmed with family duties but wanting to pursue a hobby to get some help with things she didn’t love (laundry, cooking, etc.) in order to have a bit more time for what she did love – (painting, music, etc.).

My friend, a mother of grown children, burst out: “but that’s not character building!”

I quickly replied that leaving her family and running away to Argentina was not character building, but devoting 5 fewer hours a week to a household chore could hardly be seen as a life of vice. After some thought, she agreed.

This conversation left me thinking. As Christians, we are raised to believe (rightly) in the importance of character. We are taught to practice virtue – including the virtue of perseverance in tasks we may not like. Self-sacrifice and self-control form the basis of a life of service.

But sometimes it seems like Christians feel that they always ought to choose the more difficult task, because “building character” is so important. So is there no room for doing what comes easily to us?

How do we walk the line between doing what is easy because we love it and/or it comes naturally to us, and doing what is difficult because it builds our character? Continue Reading