Discovering Our True Identity: Essential for Discerning

06 AA Sr EmmaualIf our “false self”—the self driven by sin and by a false identity—is sometimes our greatest obstacle on our discernment journey, our “true self” is one of our greatest allies in our discernment journey.

The closer we grow to Christ, the more we start to see the world, others, and ourselves, with the eyes of Christ. What is our true identity? As discussed earlier, we find our true identity in God. Two ways to come to a truer sense of ourselves immediately stand out: Seek self-knowledge and learn to see ourselves through God’s eyes.

1. Seek self-knowledge

Getting to know ourselves—without false vanity, without the shadow of sin—is true humility. Self-knowledge is often marred by two opposite tendencies—sometimes simultaneously. Either 1) we ignore our faults altogether and become prideful, attributing our gifts to ourselves rather than God, or 2) we fall into the slump of seeing ourselves too negatively, only seeing our faults and limitations.

Genuine self-knowledge comes through prayer, living reflectively (especially through the examen), and openness to discovering the truth about ourselves.

Humility is knowing ourselves as graced and weak, blessed and sinful. If we can become comfortable in this truth about ourselves, then we are much less likely to get in our own way on our discernment journey. Humility can be uncomfortable, especially when our illusory image of ourselves as overly powerful and in control is shattered. In these moments, it can be helpful to cling to God’s love, in which we can find the true anchor of our identity. Isaiah 43:4 is a great reminder: “You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

We can pray for self-knowledge to the Holy Spirit, asking especially for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In his Confessions, Saint Augustine offers a prayer for self-knowledge: “Let me know Thee, O Lord, who knowest me: let me know Thee, as I am known” (Confessions, Book X). The following Petitions of Saint Augustine is a beautiful and powerful prayer that is helpful to pray regularly. I’ve adapted it slightly for today’s usage.

LORD JESUS, may I know myself and know You, and desire nothing else but You.

May I hate my [false] self and love You.

May I do everything for the sake of You.

May I humble myself and exalt You.

May I think of nothing except You.

May I die to myself and live in You.

May I receive whatever happens as from You.

May I banish self and follow You, and ever desire to follow You.

May I fly from myself and fly to You, that I may deserve to be defended by You.

May I fear for myself and [be in awe of] You, and be among those who are chosen by You.

May I distrust myself and trust in You.

May I be willing to obey on account of You.

May I cling to nothing but to You.

May I be poor for the sake of You.

Look upon me that I may love You.

Call me that I may see You, and ever and ever enjoy You.  Amen.

Key Discernment Questions: Who am I & What do I want?

We continue to use the storytelling lens to reflect on the importance of coming to know ourselves and our motivations.

hand-534867_1280Our God-given identity is often expressed in our deepest desires and needs, as well as by our choices and actions. Knowing that we are made in the image of God as well as weak and sinful, it’s crucial that we come to know ourselves and our inner life well. This includes knowing our motivations, too. For example, if we are kind to someone, we can have any of the following motivations—or a mix of them—for that one act of kindness:

  • trying to please the person who is with us
  • hope to get something back from the person we are being kind to
  • a sense of duty
  • the genuine virtue of love

Many times, if we are honest with ourselves, our motivations will be mixed. No matter how simple or complex they are, when we know our motivations, we are better able to freely choose what will make us deeply happy.

* * *

Here is a rather extreme example. In the Middle Ages, sometimes women entered religious life because it seemed a path to greater independence in a time when women’s equality with men was not commonly understood or respected, especially married women. Circumstances often pushed women to seek the relative freedom of religious life even if they weren’t called. And a woman in such a situation might feel attracted to life in the convent. If she didn’t know herself well, she might have thought her attraction to the convent was a call from God rather then her own need to escape a loveless marriage or oppressive circumstances. Trapped in difficult situations, many women who weren’t called opted for religious life. As a result, some convents became quite lax because many of the sisters were not following a call from God but seeking escape.

Our deepest needs and desires—the ones that have been placed in us by God—will motivate us and shape our entire lives.

* * *

My own personality was and still is shaped by a deep need for meaning and purpose in my life. I think I’ve always been this way, and to this day, my need for purpose and meaning continues to be very important to me. I know that this need can even make me see, a bit more serious than other people—at least on the surface. When I visited the sisters as a teenager, I was drawn to them partly because I thought that living their apostolate of contemplative prayer and active mission would give my life more meaning.  (When I got home, I tried to live a little bit of a convent schedule, and ended up frustrated and discouraged!)

Ultimately, my need for meaning and purpose in life became one of my main motivations for entering religious life, and I think it continues to influence me—even in difficult moments— because I can find joy as long as I continue to feel that I’m living my life’s purpose—drawing closer to Christ and sharing his love with the world.

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To Journal About

Think back on some of the major choices you’ve made in your life. If you can, pick three. For each one, reflect on the following questions:

* What was the driving factor or motivation in each decision that you made?

* What inner needs or desires were you seeking to fulfill by making that decision?