Are you Aware?

For the next two weeks, Katie and I will be with family in Quito, Ecuador.

Some are new; others who have been in place with us for a long while.

The occasion is the marriage of our son, Jeffrey to a woman he met and grew to love there, named Anita.

Well…he may or may not have completely grown to love her there.

They met in Quito and began dating right as he was completing his internship with a local service organization.  In fact, it was just several weeks prior to his having to come back to the States to renew his Visa and raise support for his work with/for a mission organization that would allow him to one day return.

And then, COVID.

What he originally thought might be a period of 3 to maybe 6 months at the outside, ended up taking a year and nearly three months before he was able to return.

But there was Anita…a woman he cared about and with whom he wanted to continue to pursue a relationship.

So, he did…online and long-distance for over a year, with just one opportunity to get together and spend time with one another and our families in Mexico for a week (one of the few places we could both mutually get to and meet during the pandemic).

A vastly different version of online dating than most might more readily ascribe to today.

But an amazing exercise in intentional and growthful communication that I think they both would acknowledge today. And an absolutely amazing thing to witness, watch and learn from vicariously, for us.

Dating or courting or pursuing or however you may choose to refer to it simply has a different rhythm to it when one is not in the physical presence and proximity of another.

It required something that we saw blossom and grow in this young man; something that would inspire and ultimately teach us; an extremely important component of each of our relationships.  It’s a concept we’re going to dig into and study for the next several weeks; SELF-AWARENESS.

At the outset, I feel I should mention (in case your mind goes there) that there is a significant difference between self-awareness and self-consciousness.

Being self-aware is a positive attribute and character trait.  Being self-conscious, generally, not so much.

Pastor and Bible teacher Sam Storms defines self-awareness as, “the capacity to be honest and sincere when it comes to both our strengths and weaknesses.” To be self-aware is to possess a keen sense of the way we impact other people. To be self-aware is to have a clear grasp of why we react the way we do when we encounter adversity or threatening circumstances. It is to be in touch with how we think and what we value and why we make the choices we do.”

Since we’re this far in, it’s probably good to establish that, of course, the opposite of self-awareness is essentially, denial; a simple refusal on one’s part to face certain realities, living in a fantasy world or flat out naïve as to the effect one has on others.  People who live in this kind of denial typically either grossly overestimate or underestimate their gifts and talents and what genuinely accounts for who they are and what they do and how what they do affects others.  Often, they simply aren’t aware but, perhaps worse; they have no desire to become more self-aware and/or to make the necessary changes it might take to improve their relationships with others.

People who are aware of how people see them are more likely to be empathetic to people with different perspectives.

Self-awareness is, indeed impacted both by our psychology as well as our spirituality.  In our second year of life, humans become reflectively self-aware. Self-awareness is closely related to self-acceptance and emotional intelligence. Therefore, increasing your self-awareness will improve your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence helps us navigate difficult periods in our lives and persist, despite frustrations. We become better at regulating our emotions and tend to judge ourselves (and others) less harshly. As a result, our self-esteem will improve.

Self-awareness helps us identify our own weaknesses or blind spots; yet not be threatened or intimidated by them.

Self-awareness enables us to look back at painful or shameful episodes of our lives and see them accurately, rather than inventing our own narrative. It avoids making excuses for poor behavior.

Another writer reinforces that, “To be self-aware is to possess a keen sense of the way we impact other people. To be self-aware is to have a clear grasp of why we react the way we do when we encounter adversity or threatening circumstances. It is to be in touch with how we think and what we value and why we make the choices we do.”

Self-awareness has been defined or described as “the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, emotions, desires, and motivations.”

As Christ-followers, the better we know ourselves and our tendencies toward certain sins, the clearer we can see where we need to change and grow. A healthy self-awareness benefits our relationships because it enables us to understand others and how others see us.

However, as Pastor and Bible teacher, Tim Keller has said, “Self-awareness is never the destination, it is only a step on the way to transformation.” A healthy self-awareness should put us on (and keep us on) the road to sanctification. This must be what King David was striving for when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Conversely, our friends at describe self-consciousness in this way: “Self-consciousness is an undue awareness of oneself, especially when one is being observed by others. The key word in this definition is undue. It is healthy to maintain a casual awareness of the way others perceive us. A moderate level of self-consciousness keeps us from behaving in rude or offensive ways. But self-consciousness as a way of life does not fit with the Bible’s description of a Christian.”

Okay…any toes feeling stepped on yet?

While that’s genuinely not our purpose in sharing this information, we do understand that some of what’s ultimately shared here, maybe a bit painful. But then, most growth in our lives typically involves at least a moderate level of discomfort, right?

Allowing our hearts and minds to be transformed takes some intentional effort, a teachable spirit, and a willingness to hear truth and get outside our comfort zones so that we can experience real growth and genuine change.

But there’s a tension here that goes beyond whether or not we are willing to make necessary changes in ourselves.

The Bible has a fair amount to say both on the concepts of putting others above ourselves but also mentions caring very little about what others may think of us.

The Apostle Paul, in the second chapter of his letter to early believers in Philippi instructed them to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility think of others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, NIV)

Selfish ambition, vanity and being conceited all lack humility and often stem from a complete lack of genuine self-awareness.

Then again, when Paul later states that he cares very little if he is judged by the Corinthians or any human court (1 Corinthians 4:3), people sometimes misunderstand and misuse this and make it their life mantra without understanding what he is really saying. He’s not self-unaware.  Later in the same chapter, Paul makes clear that their judgments don’t matter because they are not the ultimate judge.  The Lord Jesus will judge him and really, isn’t that the standard to which each of us should be held, as well?  Self-consciousness would have us act, speak and behave based on how others might judge us.  Self-awareness helps us to see things from the perspective, not just how what we say and do affect others but how it honors and glorifies Christ (or doesn’t). (Colossians 3: 23-24 NIV)

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to unpack specific areas of self-awareness that help us to be more Christ-like and, in doing so, will also help to improve our relationships with one another.

…uncertain as to whether you may be able to improve your own self-awareness?

Here are three questions to take seriously and be really honest with yourself about:

  1. How do I see (or how would I describe) myself?
  2. How do others (really) see me? (Have you ever asked them?)
  3. How do I want others to see me?

Most of us aren’t as self-aware as we think.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve.

Not all of us will get to experience growth and development in our self-awareness in the way that Jeff and Anita have that results in marriage.  But even they will tell you that it is a continual process that requires effort, intentionality and sometimes even, a little discomfort.  And that all types of relationships can benefit from heightened self-awareness on the part of each participant.

Like so many things in life, improving our self-awareness is an ongoing process and one that pays big dividends when we invest in it faithfully.

May we be further motivated by this additional instruction from the Apostle Paul; “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?  (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV).

Right here with you,