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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Half Way There, Already Good

Yesterday marked the half way mark for my month-long challenge to write every day. So, of course, I didn’t feel like writing today.

I was tired, grumpy after a long weekend of travel, and altogether uninspired. The words I wrote about motivation two days ago had slipped away and seemed irrelevant. Why was I doing this again?

So I took some time to look through the journal I’m using for my year-long challenge to write more days than less. At least once each month there is an entry where I blubber about my lack of success and dissatisfaction with my progress.

Here is one from March 30:
“Once again I was not successful in writing more days than less this month. I can think of plenty of excuses, but the only judge listening is myself—and I don’t think I’m a fair judge.”

This is especially funny when I’m looking at a journal that already contains more entries than my journal from last year. I am definitely not an impartial judge, I am far too close to the subject.

After scanning through pages of self-criticism, I realized how it is possible to be over-concerned with self-improvement. I am never content with myself where I am, and I have a constant list of things I would like to work on. I want to do more sewing projects, cook more creative meals, exercise more often, spend more time outside, try to learn another language, read the giant pile of books next to my bed, and then read the ones I have on a separate list on my phone. More more more. This is the American Dream. And it is exhausting.

Some people don’t ever self-evaluate and actually need to, but I over-evaluate and need to cut back. This mindset causes other common problems like desperation for affirmation, deep fear of rejection, and perfectionism. If I’m being kind to myself I will admit that I’m less of a perfectionist than I was five years ago, because my confidence grew and my need to prove myself declined.

For those of you who can relate—we shouldn’t blindly accept perfectionism as part of our personalities. Being a perfectionist is not who I am, and that is a radical realization of God’s presence in my life. Perfectionism is a learned quality, not innate or natural.

I believe God loves us as we are, Christ died on the cross for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), and we are freely given grace and forgiveness (Ephesians 1:3-14). Those things inspire us to pursue a life that is a better reflection of Christ, but they do not require us to prove that we deserve Christ’s love.

Nature's imperfections

Nature always reminds me of the beauty in imperfection

While reading through my journal entries, I also found days where I managed to defend myself and accept this kind of radical grace. I found this bit of inspiration from an entry in February:

“I can’t do everything I would like. The attempt is noble, and we should never give up on growth. However, there is a difference between seeking success as a necessity and seeking growth in opportunities. It is a balance between trying to prove or improve oneself. One is done out of pressure-filled expectation, the other is forgiving and accepting of any result.”

I have to be careful with all these challenges I give myself, remembering they are not efforts to prove myself or chores that I must do begrudgingly. Growth is important and necessary in our lives, but it shouldn’t be surrounded by a fear of failure or pressure to measure up. I love God, and I want to commit to pursuing a life that is a reflection of God’s grace. I love writing, and I want to commit to give it my best even when I don’t feel like it. The effort of trying counts more than the results. We can never be perfect, and we don’t have to be.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

Perfectionism and over-concern with self-improvement are aspects of this world. God gives us the opportunity to redefine our efforts and renew our mindset to one of grace. Only in that way do we realize that God is the only kind of good, acceptable, perfection we need.

Do you struggle with constantly wanting to improve?
How do you handle it?