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The Most Difficult Thing in Life

Thales of Miletus, a Greek philosopher, said, “The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.”

One of my friends told me she learned a lot about herself by being married; in such close quarters, it’s hard to hide anything about yourself, and your constant companion makes you think about your personality and behavior more.

I never really thought about the value of self-awareness until after she brought this up. I became more aware after I made a couple close friendships that involved sacrifice and vulnerability. As an unmarried 27-year-old, I haven’t had a spouse to highlight my personality traits. But since developing those close relationships, I’ve determined the value of, as Socrates put it, “knowing thyself.”

Socrates argued that knowing yourself was the key to wisdom. Saint Augustine wrote about the importance of self-awareness in order to understand God better, praying, “Lord, let me know myself; let me know you.” Thales of Miletus, a Greek philosopher, said, “The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.”

While the latter statement is debatable, as someone who is not very self-aware and has trouble coming to terms with weakness, I acknowledge the challenge. I’ve come to realize it’s good practice to understand our strengths and weaknesses as Christ-followers.

Using Your Strengths

Knowing what you are good at feels great. If you’ve ever received those warm fuzzy notes from people in your dorm room or small group about what they like about you, you know what I’m talking about. It’s nice to be affirmed, and even nicer when you’re surprised by a positive comment someone makes about you. One of my college roommates told me I had a peaceful presence. So my introversion didn’t make her feel awkward, but she actually felt calmed by it!? Cool. (Another roommate described me as “a bit of a nut,” but I already knew that.)

As Christ-followers, focusing on our own happiness and on feeling good about ourselves is not our purpose. However, simply being aware of our strengths doesn’t mean we are being arrogant. We can use those abilities to encourage others and to delight God. For example, one of my gifts is creativity. As a writer and graphic designer, I use this every day in my work, but it also empowers my imagination and compassion; this makes me a good listener for others, a thoughtful gift-giver, and inspires me to create things others can find encouragement from.

Knowing Your Weaknesses

By understanding myself, I get a better idea of what a flawed person I am, and that’s a good thing. John Piper writes about taking an eight-month leave of absence from his pastoral duties to understand his strengths and weaknesses better—“I wanted to know my most intransigent sins. And I wanted to make war on them in fresh ways.”

I like that idea of making war with my sins. I don’t have to just sit there and let them fester.

If you don’t have a spouse to help you out, developing close friendships is a great way to highlight your weaknesses. When you spend a lot of time with someone, and more importantly, when you are vulnerable with them, you learn a lot about yourself.

Personally, in the past few years I learned about my own tendency to be extremely private about my life. Privateness is not necessarily a sin, but it was detrimental to my close relationships. When sharing is always one-sided, when one person’s being vulnerable and another never is, there is a problem.

Even taking personality quizzes (you know, the ones your bosses make you take and you secretly have fun doing) helped me recognize a few things about myself, things I already knew but had never taken the time to define or think about (I’m an INFJ, by the way, which freakily describes my personality to a T). One of my biggest issues is perfectionism, which again, isn’t necessarily bad. But when it started getting in the way of my compassion because I was focusing on the quality of the project and not caring who got hurt along the way, I realized it was something I needed to work on.

Other issues I have, things that I’ve learned by working closely with others and being more aware of my reactions, are pride, sullenness, quickness to blame, passive aggressiveness, and sensitivity to criticism (but that’s been mostly crushed out of me as a writer).

It’s so much easier to address these tendencies, i.e. wage war with them, when I am aware of them in the first place. When we remain ignorant of ourselves, it can be easy to put ourselves on a pedestal and think we’re perfect. It’s awareness of our sinful nature that makes us crave God’s forgiveness and His touch on our life, and ignorance of it can strengthen resistance to that. And the cool thing is, God uses our weaknesses (which, though I can work on them and become better at fighting, I will never be completely rid of) to remind us of the power of Christ: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Perhaps that is the most difficult thing in life, giving ourselves up to Christ to become perfect in our weaknesses.

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About the Author

Allison Barron

Hailing from the cold reaches of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Allison is the general manager of Geekdom House, executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is usually preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.

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