Often when a man or woman gives in to the same temptation for years without making much headway, it’s because there’s something under the surface that needs tending.
When wiser men in my life began helping me with this, I was surprised to discover a bustling city of angers, fears and faulty beliefs powering the temptations that plagued me most. Over time, this self-awareness enabled me to better handle temptation by tending to my emotional, physical, and spiritual needs in healthier ways.
But there’s a danger that comes with self-awareness.
Sometimes, paying too much attention to what’s going on inside can unintentionally make it worse.
- Discovering that you’re angry with your spouse is better than letting it seep out through sarcasm, but ruminating on that anger can also add fuel to the fire.
- Recognizing you feel lonely is better than pretending you’re fine, but focusing on your loneliness can lead to a self-pity that is both anti-social and unpleasant to be around.
- Facing the shame you’ve been living under is better than numbing it with porn, but giving it too much attention can mean listening to shame’s messages more than before.
So how can we reap the benefits of self-awareness without making our inner landscape more difficult?
- Talk to yourself. My wife teaches many of her clients, “Don’t just listen to yourself, talk to yourself.” As Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
- Practice God-awareness. My colleague Bob Ragan regularly teaches the importance of becoming more God-aware than we are self-aware. This means seeking what God is doing, saying, and asking in the moments of your day and in the inner-workings of your heart.
- Bring your fish and loaves (see Matthew 6:33ff). Bring to Jesus not just what you don’t have (This place is desolate and it is already quite late.), but also the little you do have (We have only five loaves and two fish.). If you’re “stuck” with a husband who keeps relapsing with porn, can you bring to Jesus the good you see in him? If you’re lonely with no prospects for marriage, can you bring to Jesus the friendships you have? If you distrust God, can you bring to Jesus the sliver of trust you do have?
In each of these, I’m not suggesting distracting yourself by “focusing on the positive” so much as simply this: Jesus is aware of the magnitude of your need. The disciples’ idea was to “send the people away” from Jesus. His idea was to keep them close, and to make a feast out of the little they had. If God doesn’t seem to be feeding you as you wish he would, maybe he’s preparing a table for you in another way.
Self-awareness is essential in your battle against life-dominating temptations. But it alone can’t save you. It’s meant primarily to enable you to bring yourself, as you are, more fully into relationship with the God who is here.
Question: How has self-awareness helped you? In what ways have you learned to keep it in check? Leave a comment below.