Inviting God into my Connection Network by knowing myself.
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
If you've been following this series and you're noticing that you sometimes find God in our Shame Web, you might be asking, "So what do I do about it?" Here's a start.
Here is what I propose. We find our infinitely loving God in our Shame Web because our relationship with God is askew. If we dig to the root of that we'll see that it begins with us having an off relationship with ourselves. In order to move God from our Shame Web to our Connection Network, we need to get some things in order (in partnership with God, of course). Namely, truly knowing and connecting with ourselves so that we can truly know and connect with God and others rightly.
That is what this post focuses on. Knowing ourselves. You've probably heard this rather vague phrase, "knowing myself", a lot lately. You've also probably nodded, "Um, yeah. Sure, I know myself. Next.
"How can I draw close to God when I am far from myself?"
- St. Augustine
I love that quote. These-a-days there are a lot of variations of this practical, yet spiritually rich, quote from St. Augustine. It takes a whole mucky mess that exists within me and clarifies it. I don't know about you, but for so long I've ignored myself, putting others first and focusing on God. My family grew up strongly advocating the J.O.Y model of prioritizing life- Jesus, Others, and finally maybe once all the work is done and everybody else is taken care of then a little bit Yourself... but not too much. This can be a very confusing and guilt-ridden way to live.
So many people perpetuate the belief that if it's ever for even one second J.Y.O or God forbid Y.J.O then we are selfish terrible people. While J.O.Y is a beautiful model for life, it can be a dangerous trap of avoidance and self-neglect that can hurt ourselves and others. Can we really love and serve others rightly if we neglect our own needs? Can we really encourage someone that has something we feel we're shamefully lacking? Can we really cheer someone when we are envious of them? Are we really helping that person because we love them or because we find our identity in being a helper?
How pure can our motives be if we are subconsciously (or secretly) maneuvering to meet our unmet needs? We become so focused (consciously or subconsciously) on getting our needs met that we become desperate, "self-sufficient" and in the end ashamed of our growing failures (there goes the J in J.O.Y). From that place people can easily become a means to an end (and there goes the O). The model then becomes Y (J.O.Y minus the J and the O). And the strive-shame dance carries on. Are we even aware that this is happening? Are you?
Okay, that might've been a little rough to read. But hang in there with me, we're getting to the hopeful part. But first we need to know the simple but profound distinction between self-knowledge and self-awareness.
Gaining self-knowledge means knowing things about myself (i.e. facts, my worldviews, my preferences, my strengths and weaknesses, tendencies and temptations, etc.). Practicing self-awareness means really seeing myself as I show up in the moment (i.e. aware of my reactions, identifying the feelings of shame and anxiety, recognizing when I'm feeling insecure, seeing the adaptive behaviors that I try to use to belong, distinguishing between me rejecting myself and feeling like God is rejecting me, etc).
Personally, I've often believed that I possessed a good measure of self-knowledge. I've always enjoyed learning how people work and I could easily stand back, analyze and express the things that shaped me. I could see the family patterns pretty clearly. I was pretty good at the "I'm like this because..." Of course, it was always from an emotionally detached state. It was much more comfortable to be fixed on understanding instead of actually seeing how it was influencing me now and changing it. I mistakenly thought learning about myself was the same thing as knowing myself. I had been completely leaving out the uncomfortable vulnerable parts. And that left me totally blind to why I reacted the way that I did.
In all of this, I ignored myself and focused exclusively on God and others. I mean, J.O. and sometimes Y right? Knowing God was my ultimate goal and being helpful had become my identity. It's a fabulous goal and being helpful isn't a bad thing after all. Yet after a while God began to clearly point back to me, gently explaining "I want you to know me too, but in order to really know me fully, you're going to have to get to know yourself a bit too." Along the lines of what St. Augustine has been saying for centuries. So I slowly began to pay attention.
Possessing both self-knowledge and self-awareness helps us to separate from others and our adaptive behaviors in a healthy way so that we can really connect with ourselves and God.
Here are some great practical resources I've found to help me add self-awareness to my self-knowledge. These resources help us to make that healthy separation from others so that we can truly connect with ourselves, others and God.
Knowing Ourselves: As God originally designed us, as we've adapted to life and where we confuse ourselves with others.
One of the best tools I've found for doing this is the Enneagram [any-ah-gram]. The Enneagram has been hugely beneficial for myself and many people that I know. The Enneagram is most easily explained as an ancient personality typing system. Or as I've learned it, it shows us which sliver of God's heart He made us to uniquely reflect and our motivations behind our adaptive behaviors. In other words, it shows both the beauty of our original design and how that design has been marred as we've tried to cope in this broken world.
Revealing both the light and shadow sides of ourselves. Key in this is understanding is our motivations. With this self-knowledge we can examine our hearts, realize our deepest needs and let God in. As we begin to see our patterns of behavior, we can clue into what's really happening for us internally in the moment. That is self-awareness. Check out Enneagram resources HERE. I highly recommend the Podcasts, which are an excellent way to see the intricate ins-and-outs of our Enneagram numbers by relating to other people's experiences.
Quick side note since we are talking about God in our Shame Web and Connection Network. We can't really build self-awareness without God's help. Don't worry though, He loves to do this. On our part, it hurts to really see the side of ourselves that we aren't proud of, our "shadow side". This is where we often run from God. Usually the tiniest glimpse of that shadow side sparks such shame in us that we bolt before God can once again show us how much He loves us. He's kneeling there, arms wide for a hug and we're already two blocks away. It's in those bolting moments that we most need to know God is in our corner. He wants to sit with us in our discomfort and be our comforter, but we run because we are so afraid we'll be rejected for making God feel angry, disappointed or even just uncomfortable. Having self-awareness in these moments helps us to see more clearly and begin to allow God into our Connection Network.
Second, it's extremely helpful to see our Boundaries (or lack there of). Boundaries make clear the distinction between ourselves and others and help us to connect with ourselves and others rightly. As Drs. Cloud and Townsend say, boundaries let in the good and keep out the bad. They tell us where us and our responsibilities begin and end. Without clear boundaries we're at best missing out on the fullness of life offered to us and at worst a total stressed out shame-ridden mess.
Boundaries help us to see when we're somewhere not meant for us. That's where an emotion like guilt can be helpful. Without boundaries we're vulnerable to sneaky shame attacks because we feel like we've failed to do something which was never actually meant for us. Check out the Guilt v.s Shame distinction in the last post. Boundaries are good for defining our limitations and knowing when we need to ask for help from safe people. And when we need to keep our distance from unsafe people. You can learn more about Boundaries HERE.
Next time we're going to look at the next two pieces of moving God from our Shame Web into our Connection Network. Namely, Knowing God and Connecting with God. We'll look at some really practical ways to connect with God and build that intimate relationship required for healing connection.