The goal of the spiritual journey is the transformation of the self.
I have wrestled with the idea of knowing self much the last several years – it often feels selfish. Yet, as Thomas Kempis once wrote, “A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning.”
Let that sink it for a moment.
Often, we strive for more information, thinking that if we can just check off all the boxes or answer all the questions correctly then we are spiritually mature. This mentality has caused so many to strive to be seen by others as righteous, knowledgeable, and all together; yet it has caused many to lack in humility.
I cannot help but notice that when religious people focus on the external, they quickly become rigid, judgmental, and hypocritical – I must confess that I have seen this within myself more times that I would like to admit!
This struggle also seems to be the great struggle Jesus had with the religious leaders of the first century. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus confronts this tendency by saying the following:
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.
27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
I think it is easy for us as humans to focus on other people’s junk – in fact it’s not only easy, it boosts our own ego and sense of self-righteousness. It is easier for me to see the places and areas where others should grow or change than it is for me to notice, see, and accept the areas where I have messed up or have room to grow; accepting the shadows within us is a necessary part of our transformation.
Genuinely transformational knowing of self always involves encountering and embracing previously unwelcomed parts of self.
Once we begin to notice things within ourselves, the second and even more difficult step is to accept these things. This is painful for several reasons. First, I would rather ignore these dark places. Second, once I am willing to look at and notice these areas, I struggle with shame and unworthiness, in other words, I struggle to accept these parts of myself.
Brene Brown writes:
We protect ourselves by looking for someone or something to blame. Or sometimes we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or by immediately going into fix-it mode.
She continues to explore the relationship between self-acceptance and extending acceptance toward others:
The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.
- Do you struggle to accept yourself?
- What parts of yourself do you struggle to accept? Why?
- Do you believe that God accepts all parts of you?
 David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 14.
 Matthew 23:25-28
 David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 52.
 Brene, Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 16.
 Brene, Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 17.