Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Soul Searching

1/19/2018

BY JIMMY NUNN
During the holiday break, I spent more time reflecting on my personal goals, looking inside myself to see where I am in relationship to where God wants me to be.
I realized some things that I had thought important were merely passing interests. And I resolved to realign my living with what God desires that I do.
I recommend you, too, practice sincere self-evaluation about your Christian journey. Where are you spiritually in your life?
It was easy to deceive myself into thinking that I had everything together — or at least had valid reason to complain about my life. The mindset I was carrying was like that of Job, whose story requires a whole book in the Old Testament.
Job spent the better part of 37 chapters complaining, defending himself, and seeking to justify his thoughts and behaviors.
But in the midst of challenging God, he had to do some self-reflecting, too.
So I have chosen Job 38:1-3 as the theme of this article. “Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: ‘Who is this darkening counsel with words lacking knowledge? Prepare yourself like a man; I will interrogate you, and you will respond to me.’” The concept is so important that it is repeated in Job 40:7.
The words of the desert fathers also informed my self-searching. They were early Christian hermits who chose to live as ascetics in the desert lands of the Middle East. Some organized in communities, with an abba (father) as their leader.
Self-reflection takes time, because it is so easy instead to self-justify. One of my favorite sayings is from Abba John the Little: “We have abandoned a light burden, namely self-criticism, and taken up a heavy burden, namely self-justification.”
I ask myself: Where am I showing signs of carrying a heavy burden? How am I seeking to justify myself in that?  
Self-justification reveals itself in strained relationships. When I was younger, I would mentally replay arguments, imagining how I would respond differently with an insight that proved my point or belittled the other person in order to emerge the winner in the word battle. Yet I doubt most people in the actual conversations even knew I was upset, because I didn’t express my thoughts or feelings. Thankfully, I have grown since those days and have learned to spot that downward spiral.
Another desert father, Evagrius Pontikos, wrote, “And do not abandon yourself to anger in such a way that you dispute in your thoughts with the one who has vexed you.”
His statement made me aware that self-evaluation far too often followed a destructive loop pattern for me. Once I comprehended the meaning of that insight, I learned to recognize when it intruded on my personal reflections.
Now I ask myself: Am I having an internal argument with anyone? If so, how can I bring that to resolution?
Two other proverbs by desert fathers help me seek better alignment for my life.
Abba Poemen said, “Teach your mouth to speak what is in your heart.”
In a similar vein, Abba Elias said, “Unless the mind sings with the body, the labor is in vain.”
These sayings help me reflect on how well I am living in relationship with God. I regularly examine myself, seeking to recall specific examples of alignment and misalignment and then adjust my thinking and move forward as a Christian. I suggest this practice to you, noting the approach of the Christian season of Lent, a formal period for self-reflection and fasting.
In Job 42:4, Job repeats the question that God asked of him. But then he responds as one who has had a fresh encounter with God, not as one making a complaint.
Job responds, “My ears had heard about you, but now my eyes have seen you.”  
Setting aside time for self-reflection has helped me. I hope that sharing these insights may be helpful to you.


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