“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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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

Where are you starting from?

I wrote recently about how grace and nature both need to grow together in our lives. Lots of Christians seem to be fascinated by spiritual growth, but occasionally forget that basic human elements of us need work, too!

In order to grow and change for the better, we need to know both what we are growing towards, and where we are growing from. Most of us have an instinctive understanding of what it means to be a better person. Virtuous people are not selfish – they are generous. They care about others. They are willing to speak the truth, in love. They inspire and encourage others, simply by being themselves. Most of us know what kind of person we’d like to be. Continue Reading

Grace and Nature

There’s a famous saying in theology, “Grace builds on nature.”

Sometimes we visualize ‘building’ like lego pieces: one stacked on top of each other, top one covering the bottom one. But that isn’t what this saying means. It means instead that grace – God’s life and help given to us – permeates our lives, healing our human nature, and then helping to grow us more like Him.

We’re the branches, grafted onto the Vine of Life.  Continue Reading