To be quite honest, God’s goodness, love, kindness, patience, and sovereignty meant almost nothing to me in college. In times of deep hardship, I often found that these attributes were almost irrelevant to my problems.
Don’t get me wrong. God is a good and holy God, and should be worshipped as such. It’s not that I didn’t know enough about Him—I actually spent most of my free time at church. But I spent almost no time trying to understand who I was and how He made me—in relation to who He is. So in times of struggle, I would distance myself from God until the problem was over. Instead of drawing me closer to my Father, the information I learned about God remained at just that: information. How was I supposed to appreciate and worship God for His sovereignty when I had bills to pay and a career to find?
Now that I look back, I realize that a crucial piece of the relationship was missing: knowing myself. Because I spent time learning only about God’s attributes, I wasn’t able to understand how they were directly relevant to me. And eventually, I began to separate God from my struggles.
How does knowing ourselves better help us overcome the hardships of our lives? Why is it not enough just to know God when we struggle?
Because the more you know yourself, the more you know God. But most of us only know about God.
This “spiritual hack” has existed long before our time. To quote John Calvin, a great theologian from the 1500s: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (Institutes of the Christian Religion). Why is it then, that we devote so much time learning about God, but neglect to learn about ourselves?
It’s more than just knowing your likes and dislikes—are you aware of how God has wired your character and how He speaks to you? God speaks to everyone differently, because He made each of us uniquely. So for this purpose, here are 5 biblical counseling steps to find greater self-awareness in these moments.
- Heat- What are the difficulties and pains in your life? Identify them.
- Thorns- In what negative ways did you react to those difficulties and pains?
- Root- What belief or idol in your heart made you act that way?
- Cross- Under the cross, you are not your old ways.
- Fruit- The ways God is changing your sin into godliness.
These steps are from CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation), and I have found that this process heightens my self-awareness in difficult moments.
- HEAT – To say I was stressed out was an understatement. As a senior in college, I would drop to the floor in terror when I would think about my future. I had no idea what I was even passionate about, while all my friends around me were snagging “adult” jobs with salaries. The biggest pain of my senior year, and even the first two years of postgrad, was the doubt and uncertainty regarding my career path.
What difficulty or pain are you currently struggling with in your own life? Take time to identify the what. Is it loneliness? Community? Finances? Relationships? Be detailed and honest about what your ‘heat’ is.
- THORNS – The stress eventually showed up in my life as anxiety and extreme sensitivity. I doubted that God had a plan for me, and convinced myself that I was the one who had to figure it out. When others would ask me about my future plans, I would become uneasy or act sensitively towards them for asking.
Sensitivity, anxiety, and unbelief were the ways in which I responded to the heat of life. In what negative ways have you responded to the difficulties you are going through? These are your thorns.
- ROOT – I realize that the struggle of career isn’t unique to me. But the specific reason why not knowing my career tormented me was because I had the root (AKA idol) of control in my heart. How did I respond to the pains I felt from a lack of career security? With sensitivity and anxiety (thorns). Why did I respond that way? Because I didn’t have control over my future when I idolized control (root).
Why do you think you responded in the way that you did? Tim Keller says that there are 4 primary idols of our heart: APPROVAL, CONTROL, COMFORT, and POWER. Which one takes root in your heart?
- CROSS –Sometimes when we are so stuck in our ways, it’s easy to allow our identity to be shaped by them. For me, I allowed myself to believe that I was someone who was of lesser worth because I felt like I didn’t have a life purpose. I didn’t know what career I was made for, and with each comparison I made, I let myself believe that I was somehow of less value than another person who was in graduate school or working full time.
But the hope for Christians is this: the Bible says that the old has gone, and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means that the cross offers you redemption from the heat and thorns in your life.
You are not your thorns. You are not the roots in your heart. I was never made to simply finish college and find a career—my life’s purpose is to exist to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The cross tells me that I am so much more than any title I can earn on this earth, whether it’s through my degree or a job title. The cross tells me that my Savior already earned my title on the cross: precious daughter and worthy child.
Further, He ministers to the root of control in my heart by reminding me that He is not only my Savior, but also my Father. Because He already demonstrated His love for me by sending Jesus to the cross, I know that God loves me unconditionally. And because God loves me, I know that I can trust Him with anything. Therefore, when I look to the cross, God becomes a safe person whom I can trust to have a Fatherly and loving control over my life.
In this way, God speaks truth to me in the dark moments when I struggle. What are the truths God reminds you of through the cross?
- FRUIT – It wasn’t in an instant. It took many months for me to accept the truth that God has a safe, Fatherly control over my life, and I do not. As this truth began to replace the root of control in my heart, I began repenting more when I fought for control again. I repented of loving control more than God, and began acknowledging that His control is sovereign over me.
In a place of such deep idolatry and intense struggle, God’s truth penetrated my heart to realign my loves, and to help this broken sinner seat Him as King. As I became more self-aware of my roots and thorns, God used those weaknesses to minister to me instead of breaking me.
Without a doubt, God is currently working in some area of your life also. In what areas of your life is God working to bear fruit?
The more I came to know myself, the more I came to know God. As we learn more about how God has created us, we will become increasingly more aware of how God’s attributes are directly relevant to us. My hope is that these biblical counseling steps will help you to ultimately have a more intimate relationship with our loving Father, and to enjoy Him more.
Helen currently serves in KCM’S Women’s Ministry and is one of the seminar speakers for this year’s Women’s Conference. Make sure to sign up for the April 20th event here: https://goo.gl/forms/Dcb7k9YuoryHBjFy1