I am going to write about self-awareness in the Christian, but since the phrase may be unfamiliar to or used differently by some, I offer a cultural illustration to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.
At my age, one must ration one’s excitement.
The problem with nature is there is so much of it.
Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?
If I were to search for logic, I would not look for it among the English upper class.
No guest should be admitted without the date of their departure settled.
I bet some of you read those quotes in the voice of Dame Maggie Smith, and you may have even added a little sniff or injected sarcasm into your voice, so it would sound just the way the Dowager Countess (DC) would say it.
Of course I’m talking about the matriarch of the Crawley family, she of the much-acclaimed wit and acerbity whose life and those of her household were the talk of both sides of the pond during the 6-year run of “Downton Abbey”, a Masterpiece Theater masterpiece. Despite the fact that Twitter would resonate every Sunday night with more references to Dame Smith’s quotes than the plotlines of the other characters, in the role of dowager, Violet Crawley, heretofore replaced as lady of the house by her son’s American wife, would resist any idea that she held any significance, influence or power. That is the place of the dowager, after all, shrinking, retiring, disappearing into nobodiness.
However, while creator Julian Fellowes desired a program true to the proscriptions and sentiments of the Victorians, the last thing he wanted was a nobody character taking up space on the screen, especially one played by such a theatrical powerhouse as Maggie Smith. But how to bestow zing without betraying fidelity to the period setting? He capitalized on a slippery scale of self awareness.
I was right about my maid. She is leaving to get married. I mean, how could she be so selfish?
An unlucky friend is tiresome; an unlucky acquaintance is intolerable.
Of course it would happen to a foreigner. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house.
The truth is neither here nor there. It is the look of the thing that matters.
Oh, my dear, you flatter me; which is just as it should be!
Nothing succeeds like excess.
Thus Fellowes wrote for Dame Smith lines that gave the appearance of one thing (Victorian stoicism and propriety the best we 21st-century modernists could imagine it) but really revealed something else (an undercurrent of disdain and intolerance for others -- a very un-Victorian commodity when visible, but one that plays well in our day), which left viewers wondering if the DC was cluelessly patronistic and didn’t realize how condescending her comments sounded, or if she was completely aware of what she was saying and having one over on all of us, taking advantage of the pass most of us would give a doddering old lady for her verbal slips.
That first quote is so devoid of self-awareness that it almost makes one cringe. And the line about the dead foreigner completely disregards the fact that a life has come to an end. Does she know what she is saying? Is there really no humanity to her? Is Violet Crawley’s privilege the butt of the joke? Or are the others’ prudish sensitivities the target of our knowing snickers?
Okay, enough about Maggie Smith and “Downton Abbey”. I hope that was a help and not a distraction.
Self-awareness is a buzz word in the world of business coaching. It is hailed as a characteristic that all great leaders possess and use to maximize positive results. (Joanne Love, “5 Signs you lack self-awareness” at LinkedIn, 1/19/16).
The Bible has a good deal to say about self-awareness, diagnosing cluelessness as the condition of natural man: "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weights the heart" (Proverbs 21:2), and "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
First Timothy 4:16 says, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing, you will save both yourself and your hearers." And Solomon advises that "The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way" (Proverbs 14:8a).
We don't talk much about prudence, but the Bible does -- not surprisingly mostly in Proverbs. How does one act prudently in these matters? If you do a search of the word "prudent" in Proverbs, what comes up is our own topic: self-awareness.
Jesus also warns believers to hone it as a skill, but not for the outcomes of household power struggles or business leadership.
What should we be aware of?
All we could ever want or need comes with faith in Christ.
At the beginning of the sermon on the mount, in Matthew 5, Jesus exhorts us not to delude ourselves about who we were and what we have to offer on behalf of our petitions for heaven. If we count ourselves among the blessed, then we are poor in spirit -- bringing nothing because we have nothing. We mourn over the weight of our sin and its offense to God. We recognize that our lost and hopeless condition is our own doing and grasp the offer of salvation that changes our desires and makes us thankful for his mercy (meek) and we glory in his majesty (pure in heart). Because righteousness is our very sustenance, we hunger and thirst for it, and peace with God is our singular mission.
“I say to the Lord, You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” (Psalm 16:2)
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:25)
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
What should we beware of?
Then in the next portion of the sermon, the Lord cautions his followers:
"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 6:1)
Beware . . . Be aware . . . of what?
Remember Proverbs 21:2 and Jeremiah 17:9? Jesus knows how easily distracted the fickle heart of man is, especially when the reward of appearing godly is dangled before our eyes.
The verses following contain scenarios of men who, like Violet Crawley, demonstrate a lack of self-awareness. Jesus refers to treasuring the praise of men for public episodes of giving to the poor, prayer and fasting, but for me, it also sounds like this:
Edward T. Welch writes: “If we think we are usually good, then God is usually irrelevant . . . Such thinking ignores the depths of sin in my own heart, and, in essence, it elevates me so that I am just a mildly flawed imitation of God rather than someone completely dependent on Him.”
And Spurgeon said: “The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.”
I renounce any claim to Christ’s virtue when I treasure my own. I have my reward, and it is the fullness of all that is here in this life. It may make me feel happy and satisfied now, but it relinquishes all the promises of the glory of eternity.
My mom used to called it self-centeredness and warned me to watch my pronouns, encouraging me to think less of the first person and more of the second and third persons. Now that I am a Christian, I appreciate that maxim more, but I think it is only half-true. The attending reality to "I" must decrease is CHRIST must increase (John 3:30). I, now hidden in Christ.
I wrote about this a year ago in a blog post at 3RG’s website, called "Watch Your Pronouns", with an angle on drawing children away from the allure of a ME-focused culture -- a net we all find ourselves entangled in at times. Here's some of that (reworked to relate to all of us, not just children):
Pray for an awareness of abiding in Jesus. Meditate on the vast goodness of Christ in every corner of your life: his protection, his provision, his fairness in never changing who he is or what he declares as right, his faithfulness and gentleness and mercy and kindness.
Was I kept safe today? Jesus is such a good protector. Was I fed today? Jesus supplies just what we need for the day. Was I corrected or chastised or convicted for sinful thoughts or attitudes or behavior today? Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit and the fellowship of other believers to help us stay on the path. Was I hurt today? Jesus is the great physician who knows what persecution, humiliation, pain, suffering, loneliness feels like, and by whose wounds we are healed.
In this you would imitate Paul, who in his epistles took every advantage to thank and praise God, testifying to his mercy and grace, and who checked his own motivations with the divine scales of love:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
Look at the repetition of “I”s and how they relate when there is no divine love: I speak - I am an irritation . . . I have - I am nothing . . . I give away - I gain nothing.
The cost of faith is the loss of my “I”s. No boasting, no hypocrisy, no virtue signaling. No “I”. Why? For the sake of love. Puritan Richard Baxter advised: “Keep up a humble sense of your own faults -- and that will make you compassionate to others.” Not exactly how we will remember Violet Crawley, I suspect, bless her heart.
Godly awareness reminds self of its place (John 3:30). "I"s are okay if we are using them to turn our and others' gaze to Jesus. Do I show thankfulness to God for that by being mindful of all he's done? Do I make myself a useful vessel for the increase of his righteousness by directing all my thoughts to him? Do I speak of his attributes and perfect will even when it will not benefit me? The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) is Jesus's own illustration of the difference between the man who is poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3) and the hypocrite of Matthew 6:5:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Lord, seed my thoughts with your words, your concerns, your majesty, raise my awareness of your gifts of mercy, and make me wiling to endure anything for Christ's sake, even surgery to replace my “I”s -- for his glory and for the kingdom.
Laura Miller aka mrsdkmiller
Looking for a list of articles published around the web?
Looking for posts written in response to 5-Minute Friday prompts? Click here:
Her March Isn't Over
Across the River
When God Pries My Fingers Off My Children
Life's Defining Moments
To the Christian Wife Who Berated Her Husband in Front of My Daughter
Zeal and Grace in France
An Unconventional Love Story
Seeing What's in Front of Our Eyes
Remembering Why I Called You Hannah
Love Your Sister.
Because He Came Home
Go Valiantly! A Prayer for New Homeschooling Moms
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