Cultivating Healthy Awareness

In the month of June I wrote a blog post every day for 30 days. Then came July, then August, then September, and now October. The cobwebs built up and the blog remained empty. My journal got minimal attention, and my pen went un-clicked.

This absence was not because I forgot about writing. My excuse was valid and fair, considering I got married (yippee!) and that is a life event that deserves all my attention. But I thought about my writing, and its absence, frequently. The majority of those thoughts marinated in tones of disappointment and failure, leaving me with a pessimistic and critical attitude.

I consider myself to be a very self-aware person. In the United States dominant culture, this is a good thing. I always believed it was admirable that I was aware enough to not be an idiot or an annoyance. I thought being conscious of all my faults was important to make the necessary changes to improve myself. And there is nothing wrong with improving oneself right? Improvement is part of America’s blood.

But at some point self-awareness turns into self-consciousness. In that space fear, insecurity, and a lack of confidence breed like rabbits.

In My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers confirms this problem:
“Self-awareness is the first thing that will upset the completeness of our life in God, and self-awareness continually produces a sense of struggling and turmoil in our lives. Self-awareness is not a sin, and it can be produced by nervous emotions or by suddenly being dropped into a totally new set of circumstances. Yet it is never God’s will that we should be anything less than absolutely complete in him.”

If feeling lost is a consequence of self-awareness, then feeling found can only come from Christ-awareness. 

Christ-awareness results in the peace, love, and grace that can only from God. I tend to forget that grace is not only about forgiveness, but also a freedom from the wandering feelings of our soul when we are too self aware and insecure. It is grace that allows me to escape my insecurity and embrace a completeness in Christ that doesn’t require any form of improvement.

Those who are complete are not perfect, but when they look at their lives they see the goodness of God and are content with their place in the world. They still strive for a better life, but they do so in an effort to glorify God instead of worrying about proving themselves.

I’ve seen this truth as a newlywed who has a vision for her perfect apartment. I spent the first few weeks of my marriage focusing on what the apartment needed, whether that was internet, glassware, a chair, or pictures on the wall. The motivation to complete our apartment and make it perfect drove me straight into exhaustion and frustration. No home is ever complete, but I desired this dream because I knew completion in my life as a whole was a much harder goal. 

My life didn’t become any more complete when I graduated college, when I got a great job, or when I got married. The apartment didn’t become any more complete once we got internet or pictures on the wall. We search for fulfillment in the high points of achievements and the objects of materialism, but neither can give us the abstract satisfaction we truly seek.

I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to prove and improve myself. My self-awareness has never led to any accomplishment that was enough. Yes it is good to have goals, but our awareness of those goals should be full of the grace of God. Writing or not, married or not, finished apartment or not—I am complete in Christ.

This isn’t an easy mindset for me to change, and I know that even my faith in God may never be fully “complete” by worldly standards. I wrestle daily with being self-conscious, anxious, and insecure. But by  focusing on Christ-awareness I am one step closer to the true peace and rest that only comes from God.

“If we try to overcome our self-awareness through any of our own commonsense methods, we will only serve to strengthen our self-awareness tremendously. Jesus says, “Come to me… and I will give you rest,” that is, Christ-awareness will take the place of self-awareness.”
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest
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The Trick to Being Nice to Yourself

Like many of my selfie-induced, social media conscious, pressurized world-changers in the millennial generation— I am riddled with insecurity. We can point fingers at a variety of reasons, but blame never solves a problem.

I have tried working out, reading books on the subject, devotions that affirm my unique belovedness as a child of God, and other strategies to boost my self-esteem. Those are all good things, but my mischievous gremlin of insecurity still manages to find its way through the holes.

It is much easier for me to be nice to others, to see their unique qualities and affirm their gifts. But I can never do that for myself. So the best remedy I have found is to distance myself from myself. “Be nice to Kellie” I say. And a weird wormhole opens.

It seems weird, but this practice of treating yourself like a friend gives you enough distance to see yourself from outside your insecure head. Amy Poehler describes a similar concept in her book Yes Please.
“Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do.” – Amy Poehler

If someone listed all the things I did in 2014 it would sound like a very adventurous and courageous person. I know because people have told me so. Watch:

I survived Chicago’s Polar Vortex, backpacked in Florida, graduated college, went to Disneyworld, spent a summer in New Mexico, visited four national parks, did three weeks of academic research in Sweden, got engaged in Norway, moved to Seattle, got three jobs, quit two, and read 30 books.

Even saying it to myself is hard to believe. Who is that person? In my mind, she is unafraid of challenges, an adventurous soul, thoughtful and ambitious. But if someone asked me to describe myself I would not use any of those words.

Brennan Manning wrote that “genuine self acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the God of grace.”

Thankfully it is easier for me to believe in God’s grace than it is to believe in my worth. So I start with grace and work backwards. In the same way, it is easier for me to affirm others and have confidence in God’s love for them. So I pretend I’m a friend and again work backwards.

This post won’t be as long as I would like and I have already scolded myself for not doing it earlier. But if a friend of mine was attempting a 30 day writing challenge and posted something late, I would still tell her she was amazing for sticking with it and that she is a success no matter what.

So next time you are being overly critical of yourself, look to God or a friend first and remember that same love applies to you as well.

Do you have trouble being nice to yourself?
How do you deal with it?