We all play several roles even over the course of a day—for example, a wife, a mother, an employee, a boss, a student. Devoting ourselves to these roles requires little self-exploration. Society has mapped out numerous expectations for a wide variety of roles. These expectations are fairly well known, so we can follow the basic script without much introspection.
The process of understanding who we are as unique individuals created by God, on the other hand, takes a great deal more effort, but it is an important part of the Christian life. Without an understanding of who we are, it becomes difficult to understand the ways in which God desires to work within us.
Scripture points to the need for regular self-examination. Psalm 119:59 says, “I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws.” Self-examination helps us to stay focused on Christ. As we look inward, reflecting on our lives and our inner spirit, we are able to discover directions and choices that are “good enough” for us, turning back toward God when we need to as well as moving forward in response to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
In contrast, the unfortunate result of allowing society to dictate our life script is that the roles provided often pigeonhole us. They turn us into slaves of the expectations that others have of the roles we have taken on. The roles we play are not harmful things in and of themselves. What hinders us from Christ-centered balance and wholeness is when we allow the role to define us rather than our sense of self to flow from an awareness of our place as uniquely created children of God. We are inclined to listen to the expectations of society and to accept expert opinions rather than listen to our own inner voice.
Tied closely to our inclination to trust others more than ourselves is our tendency to view ourselves from the outside. One message of society is that it is our appearance, not who we are, that is important. We grow up believing that our beauty, or perceived lack thereof, is our defining characteristic. So we cram our feet into high-heeled shoes, spend enough money on makeup, creams, and lotions to fund a small nation, and shave every visible hair from our bodies. The hair we leave on our heads we cut, dye, perm, or relax so much it’s amazing it doesn’t fall out by the time we reach fifty.
The antidote to all these challenges is self-exploration—discovering who God created us to be; but often it’s easier for us to fall back on the expectations and roles society provides than to undertake that effort. Many of us also fear what we might discover about ourselves if we were to look too closely. We harbor the fear that if we were truly known, we would not be loved. That is why we are so inclined to try to earn love from others and from God. We can’t seem to grasp the possibility that people and God might love us simply because we are the persons we are—not because of the roles we play in life—what we are able to do or accomplish. The good news of Jesus Christ is that there is NOTHING that can separate us from God’s love—not even our own self-understanding!