Self-Awareness is Transformation | Sermon from 1/12/20

Around us today is the relatively new phenomenon of cancel culture.

On social media, if you encounter someone who upsets you, who says things that drive you crazy, who pushes your buttons, you can unfollow, defriend, or block. Cancel culture takes that into the real world: when someone upsets you, act like they don’t exist.

Interviews with teenagers in high schools demonstrate this. Someone in class says something that another person takes as racist. The first person says she didn’t mean it that way and might even apologize. But because the second person is offended, he decides to cancel her, to act like she doesn’t exist, to never engage with her again. That’s cancel culture. To not even make eye contact.

In doing so, there’s no chance for reconciliation, no chance for mutual understanding, no chance for peace. There is, instead, the very denial of the humanity of the other, a cruel and fierce punishment.

Before we’re tempted to say “young people these days,” let’s consider how we have lived into cancel culture, too, without having called it that. There are family members we no longer speak to because of a history of hurt. In effect, we have cancelled them. There are friends we no longer have because the relationship fell apart over offense. We have cancelled each other. There are conflicts that have occurred, single conflicts even, between people that have led to no longer talking, no longer being on speaking terms. That’s cancel culture, even though we wouldn’t call it that.

We ourselves are well acquainted with cancel culture; a culture we would rarely need, and very rarely consider engaging in, if we took Paul’s advice this morning: “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”

Let’s read together Paul’s admonition to the church in Rome, found in Romans 12:1-8:

Scripture: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12%3A1-18&version=NRSV

This is a very famous scripture indeed. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times. Growing up, especially in youth group, I heard it all the time.

And when I heard it, the focus was always on sacrifice: Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Don’t be conformed to this world, meaning give up worldly pleasures.

Less discussed, if ever, was Paul’s call to be transformed by the renewing of your minds. It’s a call in equal measure to offering ourselves as sacrifices and it’s the antidote to conforming to the patterns of this world. Those three: offering, transformation, and nonconformance, are all linked together.

But what does that mean, what does it look like, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?

Part of my discipline, my self-sacrifice, is personal study. This is beyond study for my doctoral program, beyond study related to sermons or teaching or church leadership; it’s what I do for me. That’s been a habit for a long time. And lately, I’ve been reading about the Enneagram.

Among my peers, the Enneagram has gained much popularity. It’s an ancient system of understanding different kinds of people in the world; identified by numbers 1-9. I initially dismissed it as yet another personality inventory. I’m really over those. I’ve done every kind imaginable and none of them I found really very helpful.

But the Enneagram I have discovered is different. It’s spiritual first, not psychological. It’s from and still grounded in Christianity, not the social sciences. Among hip, new wave, evangelical churches in the suburbs, among my peers in the UMC, in the Episcopal Church and run of the mill Catholic Churches, it’s gained quite a following.

It’s power is in helping us understand ourselves not from the perspective of our best, which is what most personality inventories do. It, instead, does the very uncomfortable thing of considering us from our sin and wounds, from the ways in which our personalities lead us to be unhealthy and spread that unhealthiness to others. But here’s the kicker: by unhealthy, the Enneagram means how most of us tend to be naturally, normally.

Consider this: “Unhealthy eights are preoccupied with the idea that they are going to be betrayed. Suspicious and slow to trust others, they resort to revenge when wronged. They believe they can change reality, and they make their own rules and expect others to follow them. Eights in this space destroy as much as they create, believing the world is a place where people are objects to be used and contributions from others have little or no lasting value.” (Cron, The Road Back to You, 41-42)

That describes me when I am unhealthy and what used to be my natural state.

It’s tough to admit but powerful, transformative, when we do. We all have unhealthy selves. And unchecked, if we go about life without being self-aware, without examining ourselves, we simply live life in this unhealthy state. We hurt people, we destroy relationships, we cause damage; in short, we live lives of constant or near-constant drama. And when drama comes, we blame others for it, unable to admit to our own unhealthiness.

As the old adage says, “hurting people hurt people.” The problem often is too many of us are hurting and don’t know it, but act out of that hurt anyway. That’s the definition of lacking in self-awareness.

And that’s what Paul means this morning. What does it mean, what does it look like, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?

It means to become a self-aware person.

So often when there is conflict, the issue at hand is complicated by two people, who are unhealthy, acting out of their unhealthy selves. Quickly, for example, the family is no longer fighting over an inheritance or a surprising revelation or some other thing; instead, the family is fighting out old wounds without even knowing it. The family members at odds act out of their hurt, their unhealthy selves, while claiming to be healthy and on the high ground in the argument. Eventually, the only outcome left is permanent division; cancelling each other.

Paul says transformation of the conflict would come if each person involved could pause, see their wounds and how those are driving the conflict, ask God for healing, and then come back to the table. It sounds simple, but we know it to be so hard.

So often, we have known this reality: conflict brings stress. Stress brings on our unhealthy selves. Unhealthy selves cause drama which can cause relationship loss. Which brings more conflict. Then more stress. And the spiral continues.

As we, along with many others, continue to hurt people because we are hurting; because we lack self-awareness.

For this is the normal state of affairs. Because we’re all sinful, wounded, hurting creatures with malformations in our personalities.

Consider these examples of unhealthy personalities:

You feel so busy and burdened by all the ways you’re helping people, but when asked if you need help you dismiss the help, even feeling insulted that someone would ask you if you need help! But then you get bitter because no one will help you. This is an unhealthy 2.

When things are stressful in life, you get perfectionistic, insistent that all things are done, done well, and you can’t rest until it’s done. You drive other people in your life crazy as you do so while beating yourself up for not being good enough. This is an unhealthy 1.

If things get hard, you retract from life, refuse to engage with the difficulties of life, and retreat into things that bring you joy. You shut out the outside world, to the detriment of those who love you the most. This is an unhealthy 5.

During stressful times, you struggle to make decisions, turn to unhealthy behaviors like drinking too much or other things you know you shouldn’t do, but you do it anyway so that you can feel some pleasure. This is an unhealthy 7.

I’m sure we can all relate to one or more of those. We all have in our lives personalities that are ultimately grounded in sin and wounds. All of these describe people who act out of their wounded ness without knowing it. That means, they describe people in need of healing. Admitting that to ourselves is the first step toward being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

And the next step? That’s the challenge of the rest of our lives. To go to God in spiritual discipline, in prayer, and to engage in one of the hardest things of all in life: self-reflection. Why? Because a self-reflecting person is a self-aware person; a person who has been transformed by the renewing of his or her mind.

Self-aware people are rare, but powerful, people. Consider the difference in my type, 8, when it’s healthy. We just heard how, in my unhealthy state, where we all begin, I destroy things, I’m brash and difficult with people, I’m suspicious and actively protecting myself against betrayal that’s more often perceived instead of real.

When I’m healthy, when my mind has been transformed, when I’m self-aware, here’s how I am, “Healthy eights are great friends, exceptional leaders and champions of those who cannot fight on their own behalf. They have the intelligence, courage and stamina to do what others say can’t be done. They have learned to use power in the right measure at the right times, and they are capable of collaborating and valuing the contributions of others. They understand vulnerability and even embrace it at times.” (Cron, 41)

Such a massive difference. And what makes the difference is the “renewal of our minds.” It’s self-awareness. Such comes through self-reflection. As we find sin and wounds, we present those to God for healing. We work through the ugly sides of ourselves, we push through pain, so that God can heal us. This is the journey to self-awareness; to being healthy. Then we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be, instead of a hurting person who hurts others, a healthy person who heals others.

That’s the transformation to which Paul calls us; a transformation to a self-aware person.

Today, do you engage in self-reflection? When stressed, when hurting, when struggling, when there’s drama in your life, do you ask yourself what role you played in it? Do you ask yourself how you contributed to it? Do you seek to understand better the complexities of your soul to know why you take offense or get hurt by certain things? Or do you simply blame others for it?

John Wesley understood the importance of self-reflection for the transformation of our selves. He had twenty-two questions that he and members of his holy club would ask themselves each day in private to self-reflect. Taking on this habit is a powerful way to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can be healthy people who transform the world.

So here’s the challenge moving forward: practice the spiritual discipline of self-reflection. There are two steps to that. First, get a journal. Start journaling. It’s helpful to write the answers to the questions that you’ll ask yourself. It may only be a crutch until you can get used to it in your head, but it’s very helpful when beginning, especially if we are unskilled in the area of self-reflection. And I say unskilled on purpose: it’s a skill that requires cultivation like any other.

Second, take the card that you’ll get at the end of the service with John Wesley’s twenty-two questions for self-examination. Use those daily. Talk about them with someone close in life, with whom you can walk the journey to self-awareness. You’ll discover things you never knew about yourself. Some of those will be very difficult. Very, very difficult. One of the hardest, if not the hardest, thing about self-reflection is admitting to ourselves the ugly side of our selfhood. We all have ugly sides. And those ugly sides drive us much more than we would like to admit.

But here’s the truth of the matter. And I say this as one who is still on the journey to self-awareness but also as one who has found much healing because of this now ten year journey: I am much better, much happier, much more confident, and have much less drama in my life, because of that hard work; because I have found my ugly side, wrestled with it, and given it to God for healing.

That ugly side still exists. But when it’s there, I know that my duty is to seek transformation through the renewal of my mind; to go to God for healing. I go and journal. I take time for me, to do things that encourage health in my life: running, bike riding, reading for pleasure, hiking or otherwise getting out in nature, and getting extra sleep. And while doing all those things, I ask myself the hard questions. I self-reflect. I pray and ask God to reveal the truth about my inner nature: where I am in need of healing, where sin is driving me, so that I can become a better disciple, so that I can continue to move toward self-awareness.

Because I know the power that comes when I act as a healthy 8, the healthy side of my personality. I build things, I accomplish things on behalf of others that were thought impossible, I inspire people, I’m a leader that others can follow. And people find the healing power of the Spirit through me.

I want more days like that in my life. Not because it’s pleasureful but because I know that, when I’m healthy, when I’m self-aware, God can do far more than I could ask or imagine through me. And because I know that, when I’m unhealthy, I destroy things.

People who are not self-aware hurt others and destroy things. They cause drama and experience much drama.

People who are self-aware heal others and build things. They cause peace and experience much peace.

Hurting people hurt people. Healthy people heal people.

It’s that simple.

Which one are you?

Or do you even know?

Commit yourself to the discipline of self-reflection. Be transformed by the renewal of your minds.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

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