Tag Archives: self-awareness


Abide in love

My Advent reflection book contained portions of a story by Bishop Ken Untener called the Dream Fixer. The reflections were about our being God’s dream, and the ways we are broken dreams. One piece read:

Let me put it in terms that have a familiar ring to them because they’re taken from the story of…Jesus.

~I am the sheep that wandered off into the wilderness, alone, hungry, afraid.

~I am the younger son who took the inheritance and squandered it…

~I am the one the robbers beat and left half dead on the road to Jericho…

 As I pondered each of these people from Scripture, it came to me that while I can easily imagine myself in these sympathetic roles, I can also see that:

~I am the failed shepherd.

~I am the older son, resentful and angry.

~I am one of the robbers, using someone to my advantage.

It seems natural for me to align myself with the innocent victim—and more challenging for me to see myself as the less sympathetic person. But, I can be both.spirituality-forgiveness-LentPreparing for my retreat last month, the phrase, abide in love (1 John 4:16) came to mind. I have been pondering the many manifestations of love and also thinking of February as the month of love, so it did not surprise me that this phrase popped into my mind.

Loving family and friends seems a like a good first step in the practice of abiding in love. Being loving toward those closest to us can be enough of a challenge, but I believe God’s calling is to go deeper and wider.

God calls me to love myself, to see myself as God sees me and to accept God’s version of me. God calls me to love those seemingly unlovable parts of myself—the failures and anger and aggression. How do I take responsibility for my failures, my resentment and my aggression? How do I love myself in those unlovable places?

And, as important, how do I love others who fail or are angry or cause harm to others? Can I see them as God sees them? And love them as God loves them?spirituality-forgiveness-LentAbide in love instructs me to do just that. To live in love, to continually dip back into the love of God to remind myself what it means to see people as God sees them and to love them as God loves them—that is the invitation and the challenge.

When I can embrace the failed, angry, aggressive parts of myself, perhaps I can have more empathy for those traits in others. Maybe a greater awareness of my own darkness will make me more understanding of others, more willing to forgive, more willing to be compassionate and accepting.

My Advent reflection fits into my retreat invitation—and into a Lenten practice.spirituality-forgiveness-LentLent is a time of conversion, a change of heart. The fact that Lent began on Valentine’s Day this year magnifies the invitation to abide in love.




Becoming visible

“I bought it because it made me more visible,” I overheard a young woman say. She was talking about her new car and went on to explain that she had test-driven this car in different colors until she found the one she believed people would notice.

I thought back to when I was her age and bought my first new car. I chose one that was the most efficient for the least amount of money. It had a manual transmission and no extras, not even air conditioning—luxuries were for others, I believed—not for me. I never thought that it could help me be visible.

I am a second-born child. A Google search on my birth order brings up articles using phrases like “fighting for attention.” I’ve always wondered if the person who created the slogan for Avis rental cars was a second-born child—We try harder.

After all the excitement over the first-born, the second can seem rather ho-hum and been there/done that. A second-born child can easily feel lost in the shadow of the first-born.

I grew up believing that I was invisible, and it was not until my mid-thirties that I got a clue to the contrary. It was during a transition time, and I was flitting back and forth from Pennsylvania to Virginia to Michigan and back again to Pennsylvania, trying to figure out where I wanted to live.

“You can’t keep coming and going like that,” a Philadelphia friend declared, with tears in her eyes and her voice full of emotion. She explained how difficult it was for her to say good-bye and grieve my leaving, only to have me come back a few months later—and then leave again after another few months.

“You noticed that I left?” I asked her, incredulous that my leaving even registered on her radar. Until then, I believed that I had zero impact on anyone; it did not occur to me that my actions were seen, let alone impactful.

I took her words to heart, though, and started paying attention to how others saw me. Once I realized I was not invisible, I reviewed my life and could see a trail of hurt in my wake—a divorce, ended friendships and more inappropriate relationships that I cared to remember.

Being invisible had equaled not taking responsibility for my actions. I was like the tree falling in the woods that no one is present to hear—if no one saw me, how could my actions have consequences?

Knowing that I was visible produced a sea change in my self-understanding and my behavior. Over time, I came to understand that not only was I visible, but that I am actually quite a strong personality. Who knew?

Believing in my visibility took a long time, and I am grateful to that Philadelphia friend for opening my eyes.

The young woman who bought the car with the highest visibility rating? She was the baby in her family and accustomed to being seen.



Four Panes of the Window

My spiritual director shared a self-knowledge tool called four panes of the window: The first pane is what you and everyone else know about you; the second pane is what you know about you, but others do not; the third pane is what others know about you, but you do not know; and the fourth pane is what only God knows—you and others are clueless.

The third pane intrigued me—how can others know a “me” who is so different from the “me” I know? Although I had not previously had this image for it, I was aware of the phenomenon.

One of my earliest insights into this mystery came soon after I graduated from college and was considering what to do with my life. Should I move back to Virginia? Back to Michigan? Stay in Pennsylvania? Try someplace new?

I decided to move back to Virginia to see how it would feel. A friend invited me to stay with her, and I was fortunate enough to find work. But after a few months, it did not feel right, so I moved back to Pennsylvania. I stayed for a few months and then moved to Michigan. That lasted a few months and then I was back in Pennsylvania. At this point a friend confronted me and told me how difficult it was for her that I kept coming and going.

I knew it was difficult for me to be so unsettled, but it never occurred to me that it would be difficult for anyone else. Up to this point, I had moved through my life believing I was invisible, that no one took any notice of me and that whether I stayed or left had no real impact. She corrected that perception, and with a fair amount of emotion, she told me something others knew about me that I did not know: I was visible. Eventually, I came to see that not only was I visible, but that I can actually be a fairly large presence. Who knew?

The idea that I was visible totally contradicted what I had believed about myself, what I thought everyone else knew about me and what I thought God knew about me.

Even after all these years, I am still adjusting to the notion that I am visible. While I still find experiences of being invisible familiar, I now also find them curious—how is it possible that I am completely invisible to some people and so very visible to others? It is a mystery.

What I have learned to do, though, is to try to be more attentive to the third pane of the window, more sensitive to the impact I have on others and more aware of how I move through the world.