Spiritual Help For People Who Lack Self-Awareness

by Cole Deike March 19, 2018

I took one of those clickbait online quizzes the other day. I was preparing to preach to my church on spiritually-healthy self-awareness from Psalm 51:3 and perhaps, I thought, by taking the “Are You Emotionally Healthy?” online quiz I might gather a good joke or two. The quiz had me describe ink blots and giving titles to paintings and, to be honest, it had me chuckling with skepticism.

Then, the results came in.

And they were eerily accurate. I felt pegged. Known. Figured out. I tell you this not to promote clickbait articles, but to confess that if you read the title of this blog, I consider myself among those who lack self-awareness. Like King David who was rebuked by Nathan the prophet, I probably wouldn’t recognize myself in a parable about my life.

I plan to use the phrase, spiritually-healthy self-awareness, quite frequently in this article, so I want to define it to guard against any spiritual-mumbo-jumbo misunderstanding. By spiritually-healthy self-awareness, I mean the self-knowledge that results from developing a deeper awareness of sin while developing a grander amazement of God’s grace. Note the paradox: a life that pretends grace doesn’t exist minimizes the gospel and makes life torture. But a life that pretends sin doesn’t exist minimizes the gospel and makes life boring.

Boring. We are a generation of circumstantially entertained people who are existentially bored.

Part of this is the result of society rejecting “truth.” When the things going on in your soul are neither true or false, good or bad, sinful or holy, then the only way to describe the movements of your spirit is “whatever.” But the human spirit, to be healthy as God intended it to be, cannot veg-out inside our bodies with its feet kicked up. It needs to slay dragons, fight villains, wage war against the bad guys, and, in Christian theology, all this happens inside the human heart with Jesus.

Part of this is also biological. God, in his creative ingenuity, gave us both a conscious life and sub-conscious life. Imagine an aquarium sitting on the surface of an ocean. Your conscious life is the aquarium: it contains the pretty fish, the multi-colored rocks at the bottom of the tank, and you’ve designed it to be easy on the eyes. Your subconscious life is the ocean: most of your experience spills over the aquarium and into your subconscious where you don’t know what sea monsters lurk in the unexplored depths.

But God never desired the subconscious to be a place where we stuff secret sins.

Psalm 51, particularly verse 3, is a picture of David practicing spiritually-healthy self-awareness: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” When you consider the sins that David’s confession orbits, Psalm 51:3 is almost underwhelming. We should hope David knows his transgressions: he’s not talking about secret sins, he’s talking about sleeping with another man’s wife, impregnating her, and having her husband killed. Had David read the title of this blog, I should think he too would include himself in that category of people “who lack self-awareness.” And with this, we can either judge David with self-righteousness or acknowledge that our souls are capable of delegating some seriously obvious sins to our subconscious life so that we don’t have to deal with it.

Here are three things you might, to use David’s language in verse 3, put “ever before yourself” to push your sin to the periphery:

Tasks: Maybe you have filled your life with to-do lists, chores, checklists, and tasks scribbled on post-it notes. It may be that life is really busy. But maybe it’s because you like to answer with “busy” anytime anybody asks you how life is. Maybe you’ve drawn imaginary lines between “busy” and “valuable” or “significant” or “worthy.”

Lies: When you feel specific sins in your life begin to cross over from the subconscious to the conscious realm, maybe you experience resistance in the form of lies: “It’s safer not to go there” or “I’ll be healthier if I just ignore the mess.” By avoiding self-awareness of specific sins, you run the risk of outsourcing God’s love to the parts of yourself that you already love. To grow in health, you need to be able to say things like: “God loves me even when I’m anxious” which cannot be said if you resist acknowledging your anxiety.

Others: Maybe it’s the sins of others you keep ever before yourself. For every one sin that causes you conviction, maybe there are ten sins of others that cause you irritation. Maybe you are a good accountability partner, and this is a legitimate possibility, or maybe you major in the sins of others so that you can minor in the sins of yourself.

This is admittedly pretty simple, but I want to pivot and give us four descriptions of a person with spiritually-healthy self-awareness:

A person with spiritually-healthy self-awareness isn’t vulnerable everywhere, but vulnerable somewhere: “Do you see any sin in my life?” That a handful of my church members have asked me that question is, I think, one of my strongest sources of encouragement as a pastor. At this point in the article, your heart might still be gripped with too much fear to ask your friends, church members, or spouse that question. One goal that guides my writing today is the aim to instill you with such gospel confidence that you can ask that question in your local church.

A person with spiritually-healthy self-awareness experiences introspective prayer: Psalm 51:3 is a declarative sentence, but as this psalm begins to expand in the cracks and corners of your prayer life, I think God will turn it into an interrogative sentence: “I know my sins-- I know my transgressions-- well, do I really know them?-- how can I really know them?-- Lord, will you help me acknowledge my transgressions and my sins?” This is introspective prayer and this is healthy.

A person with spiritually-healthy self-awareness embraces community not only when it’s cathartic but prophetic: There’s this magnificent itty-bitty detail about Psalm 51 that can be a tremendous help to us: a description between the title and the poetry. It’s written in uppercase, but in a smaller font, so it often eludes your attention. It reads: “A Psalm of David. When Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.” David, a man whose writing is published in the Word of God, a man after God’s own heart, needed an outside voice to help him deal with inside sin.

A person with spiritually-healthy self-awareness talks about sin: Christ’s beauty does not consist simply in the fact that he suffered, died, and was buried. That describes the ordinary experience of any human being and explains no beauty. It makes no sense for religious organizations to center weekly meetings around the death of a historical figure two-thousand years ago. Religious organizations don’t sing about Socrates’ death. Churches don’t preach on Steve Jobs’ death. Institutions aren’t founded on Napoleon's death. What makes the gospel such good news is that Christ’s death was no mere fact, it was an accomplishment. It accomplished something. Jesus suffered, died, and was buried for sins.

The strongest description of a person with spiritually-healthy self-awareness is the willingness to talk about sin not simply for the sake of transparency, but because of her deep conviction to see Jesus Christ on unencumbered display: in all of his sin-bearing, sin-atoning, sin-destroying, sin-acknowledging beauty.