The Examined Life
When a person goes through a severe trial and/or is immobilized from an accident, old age or a dreadful disease like Cancer or ALS, that person will likely become more introspective than he or she might have been when they were healthier and busier.
Looking back to when I was “normal” (physically anyway), I now think that many of my activities, including my workaholic nature, could be classified as introspection avoidance techniques. I might not have been conscious of it at that time, and, even though I was a Christian, I don’t think I really wanted to contemplate my so-called inner–self back then. Maybe this is at least partly why I fought so hard to stay active; working for a year after being diagnosed, enduring painful falls, which caused a bad concussion, knocked-out teeth, broken bones and more cuts, bruises and embarrassment than I can or want to remember.
Obviously I also fought so hard (to stay mobile) because, like any able-bodied person, I didn’t want to be confined to a wheelchair. And I’m sure my stubborn pride played a big part too. Regardless of the reasons, the transition from avoidance of introspection to forced introspection was physically, emotionally and spiritually painful. But it’s also been rewarding to discover truths about myself and about God that I don’t believe I would have found had I not gone through this trial.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
Whether forced by circumstances, as in my case, or the easier and wiser way of choosing to examine our inner-self, looking into this kind of emotional and spiritual mirror can be gut-wrenching; like the man that pumps out our septic tank, you might not like what you find. But, for the Christian, spiritual and emotional introspection is not optional; it is a must for spiritual growth. As Jesus told the hypocritical religious leaders (in Matthew chapter 23), for us to be right with God, man and ourselves, we must “first clean the inside” (our thoughts and motives…) so “the outside (our words and actions…) will become clean also” (CH 23:26).
I believe this is why, like so many other people, I repeatedly failed to keep my New Year’s Resolutions (dealing with outward actions) – it’s like washing the outside of the septic tank when the toilets won’t flush. (Sorry for the crude example).
I’ve personally observed or know of people who have gone through this reflective process and have overcome years of anger and unforgiveness and/or addictions; they’ve become more peaceful, joyful and hopeful. On the other hand, I know of people who have gone through this process and have become angry (at God and people) and some have even become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
What can account for these varying results?
I realize there are exceptions like a chemical imbalance, but generally speaking, from what I’ve observed in myself and in others, is that we have “tools” available to us that will either help or hurt us (make us more or less Christ-like) on this introspective journey, and I believe the tools we choose will determine the outcome.
Some of the harmful “tools” are:
- Reading, watching or listening to critical or otherwise negative messages or people – “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
- Comparing yourself to those who are healthier, wealthier or anything else that we might have a tendency to be jealous of or to covet – “…the message (of God) is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.” (Luke 8:14)
- Comparing yourself to your “old self,” the younger, healthier and overall (physically) better you. (I cannot think of a verse for this one, but everyone who has done this knows it is depressing).
Some of the beneficial “tools” are:
- Surround yourself with encouraging people, especially those that have gone through the introspection process and have emerged more joyful, peaceful and hopeful – “…encourage one another and build up one another… (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Comparing yourself to and helping those less fortunate than you; supporting or volunteering with an organization that helps those going through difficulties – “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me…Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
- I’ve discovered that the most important “tool” is reading the Bible; it is a daily dose of knowledge, wisdom, understanding and encouragement. You don’t just learn about God’s nature when you read the Bible, you also learn about human nature – our nature and therefore the Bible is the ultimate introspection “tool” – “For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT)
Whether you’re currently going through a trial or everything is fine with you right now, I hope you’ll accept the challenge to suspend the blaming of your circumstances or the blaming of others and just focus on who you are in Christ. It took a severe trial for me to figure out that this kind of healthy introspection was the only way I could conquer my “demons” and finally “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)
If you’ve gone through this kind of introspective journey (in the comment section) please share the “tools” you found helpful and those that you found to be harmful.
In my next post I will share how, through this process, I learned to deal with guilt and regret.