I recently had one of my favorite people in the world, Father Damian Ference, as a guest on my radio show. We were talking about his recent Word on Fire article, Geeks, Meeks, Greeks, and Freaks: The Four Types of Seminarians, and at one point I admitted to him that I fear I don’t know myself all that well. I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever gotten the same result twice when taking a Myers-Briggs test.
I said this with a laugh but in the days after the interview, I realized just how much it bothered me, this fear I have that I don’t really know myself well.
Lately it seems that everywhere I turn, someone is talking about the importance of knowing oneself. To be successful professionally, we must know ourselves. Same for parenthood, marriage, friendship, and in the spiritual life. If you don’t know yourself, they say, you will never be successful. Not in any impressive, notable way, anyway.
They’re not wrong, exactly. Knowing oneself is an important goal. I know some things about myself and I enjoy that knowing, can see how it helps me in my life. I’m an introvert, my root sin is sensuality, I don’t ever want to stay at a B&B, if I can help it, I crave beauty, love chick-lit and the ocean and fruit pie, and I have a restless soul and am constantly trying to find harmony between my desire to put down roots and my desire to spend all the days of life with a suitcase in hand.
But in so many ways, I don’t know myself at all. I still don’t know why I do so many of the things I do. What motivates me and what holds me back. All of the details of all of the things I want for my career, from my relationships, for my life. But I will say this: I know a lot more about myself now than I did ten years ago and I think that’s important to remember.
When I was younger, before I met Dan, I found myself in an abusive relationship. It consumed me, and harmed me, and I didn’t want it to end. It did end, eventually, and only by the grace of God, no doubt, and after it had ended my mom kept asking me why. Why had I accepted this abuse? Why hadn’t I listened to anyone and allowed them to help me? Why had it lasted so long?
Over and over again I told her: I don’t know. I just don’t know. And I didn’t.
I know now. But it took me years of self-exploration and hundreds of miles of distance before I understood and could answer the whys. Years before I could see the things inside of me that led to this situation and endeavor to heal them.
I was reminded of this during this past week when I was feeling anxious about the fact that I don’t always feel like I know myself very well. We don’t emerge from our mother’s wombs with perfect self knowledge. Knowing oneself is a journey in which we can only come to understand our inclinations, motivations, and personal stumbling blocks through years made up of a myriad of experiences, failures, pains, and joys, through following God and allowing him reveal his creation, which is us, to us, piece by small piece. In fact, I think that only a very few of us will depart this world and head into the next with perfect self-knowledge.
This is not a bad thing.
This is part of what makes this life so exciting and beautiful and yes, often brutally hard. We are all in pursuit of self-knowledge. Bumbling about as we do and trying our best to become the people that God is calling us to become. May we be at peace right where we are, incomplete in our knowledge of ourselves, always changing, and hopefully, always growing, little by little and day by day, closer to the one who knows us better than we could ever know ourselves. After all, what a wonderful adventure it is, to seek and discover the things about ourselves that we do not yet know.