Out, On and Up
Immanuel Kant said, “I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself.” This is a description of what everyone faces in life: the ability to see ourselves clearly and to know what we are to be about. It might be that we can come close to knowing ourselves only when our thoughts are in good condition and are coherent to ourselves. It is the type of clarity and steadiness that comes only when we have an objective standard such as God’s Word to compare what we think and feel with everything else.
When Nehemiah first came to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the city he conducted a private survey of the situation. Authenticity is the key. When we look at ourselves we must be honest if we want to truly discover our strengths and weaknesses. If we are to do better at anything we are going to have confront ourselves with the truth. Emotions out of control amplify erroneous thoughts. They keep us from putting two and two together. A lack of authenticity leads to quick captivity and eventual exile (Proverbs 20:10 & 23). Nehemiah went out to make an honest evaluation of what had happened and what needed to be done.
An awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses provides the fortitude to deal with reality. It isn’t until we acknowledge current circumstances and how they occurred that we can move on to something better. As Nehemiah reviews the broken down city he had to get down off his horse to really see the damage (Nehemiah 2:14). Honest reviews of one’s self do not allow for pretense. It is almost paradoxical. When we become more aware of who we are we see how blind we have really been. Until we see what we lack we will never get anything done and we will not be able to move on to greater things.
When we are honest (authentic) about where we are (self awareness), we can start to move forward. It becomes possible to keep our ego in check, take responsibility for our behavior, adapt to change, embrace new ideas and adhere to higher standards of integrity under all conditions. With all of the destruction that Nehemiah had seen it would have been easy for him to give up and go do something else. Instead, he gathers himself together emotionally and started to plan (Nehemiah 2:15). The text indicates that once all the debris of bad decisions was reviewed Nehemiah instituted hope and patience in his heart and mind. He was confident that though the situation was beyond his ability to correct, it was not beyond God’s willingness to help.
When we encounter a problem we must refuse to complain, cast blame or feel like a victim. All of those tendencies indicate a situation or situations that are out of control. When we take responsibility for our part in what has happened we start to get control for the purpose of making things better. Still, it is likely that like Nehemiah, we will need others to help us (Nehemiah 2:17). When we admit that we need other people we set ourselves up for tremendous learning opportunities. We can gather the information we need to achieve the best results. We give credit readily and accept responsibility as a means to grow in our understanding faster.
Authenticity, self awareness, mastery of self and humility are a four-rail track that will take us rapidly to a desirable destination that allows for unlimited personal growth. Authenticity means a lack of conflict between what we demonstrate and how we feel and think. Self awareness means accepting the part that we have to play in a greater plan. Mastery of self means that we can see the work to be done without balking at the task in front of us. Humility means we stop condemning and blaming and start offering a well-thought-out solution. Like Nehemiah we will need to assess, accept and activate if anything about the world around is going to improve.
Dr. M. Hildon Guy is President of the University of Christian Studies and Seminary in Eagle River, Alaska (www.universityofcss.org).