Today, I bring you another installment of Conversations with Ourselves, a series of posts in which every Thursday the author addresses the Past Self through the Present or vice versa (or sometimes totally not this, but something equally cool) concerning matters of Faith, specifically.
Matthew is a very good friend from Baylor whom I am so blessed to have shared a bit of life with. He's profoundly smart and intuitive, kind and generous. His grace and humility are overwhelming and I am thrilled that he's sharing a bit of himself here today.
I don't know what to do with myself.
You see, we've changed quite a bit over the past few years, and I'm trying to figure out how to deal with the college freshman who assumed that most evolutionists were atheists. Somehow, Past survived spending Thanksgiving alone that year and (ironically) managed to impress a professor with his paper on the socialization of homeschoolers. Now, as I'm about to start at a secular law school (which he, of course, would never have considered), I'm going through a different sort of awkward growth, struggling with what parts of him should be parts of me.
It's easy to see myself as more immature and less informed then (because he most certainly was), so leaving some of his habits behind has been easy--no more constantly complicating our language, no more regular snacking from vending machines, and definitely no more arguing against tattoos based on Leviticus 19. He didn't appreciate the Church calendar at all, hardly ever invested in friendships, and sacrificed working in a children's ministry for a superfluous hour of calculus practice. Of course, despite improving in a lot of areas, he also had long list of faults that I share with him, and it's clear that I should try to keep you from having those.
Unfortunately, it's not always as clear what parts of him are essential to who I am, or more generally, what parts of him I should keep. The easy answer (and the one that he would give) is simply whatever parts are most Christ-like. I wholeheartedly agree, but identifying those parts is easier said than done.
I know that one problem is that I don't see myself well. Sometimes my opinion of myself seems to swing like a grandfather clock's pendulum, oscillating between self-aggrandizement and self-loathing in a tightly-wound circuit of self-absorption. Even though it's easy to pass this off as a part of my nature as a thoughtful introvert, I know it's not right. However, a certain amount of self-awareness is only human, and I should constantly be looking for ways to improve myself.
I'm sure you're a busy guy, but you know me; I appreciate any additional insight or advice, especially from my elders. Can you help me see myself better?
Present (for now)
Dear (formerly) Present,
You're right; we've come a long way from being Past. You've learned a lot, made a lot of friends, and generally become a lot more thoughtful. Your care for details, complexity, and individuals keeps you from making a lot of false assumptions about people. Plenty of that growth is good.
But even though he had our fair share of unintelligent slip-ups, Past also had a sense of legal justice and moral courage that's worth keeping. It's funny to see us now: We often err on the side of mercy and grace with others, as I think we should, but we don't recognize the grace we're given. We are so careful not to misjudge others that we sometimes neglect to speak against what we know is wrong. (As you're well aware, Micah, Shakespeare, and Christ all mention justice and mercy as going hand-in-hand.) So yes, believe that the guy who cared enough about justice to report a kitten in the next dorm room might, in fact, have a place in our life of mercifully rescuing kittens from the ceiling. Yes, believe that you might be able (with God's help) to nurture his love for apologetics with your sense of meekness. And yes, believe that the simplicity of his faith is more than naïveté, that you can hold it even as you wrestle with complex arguments about Eden.
However, I have my own concern about how you're approaching this problem.
Why are you asking me how to see myself better? Why are you so worried about how you can improve yourself?
Have you considered that seeing myself wrongly is as much of a symptom as it is a diagnosis? Of course, failing to see myself as Christ does makes it harder to follow Him. Absolutely, we should be aware of how we think and act and speak. But looking too long and hard at yourself instead of your Lord only blurs your vision more. When all of that self-awareness becomes the center of my mindset, I've made an idol of either pitying myself or improving myself, and I repeat some of the very sins of the Fall. Instead of seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we begin spiraling deeper into myself, trying to gain self-mastery and self-gratification.
So here's a hard truth: I still don't know exactly what to do with myself. I don't know how or if we'll end up balancing mercy and justice, reading Genesis "correctly," or speaking the truth in love.
I do know that I've grown and that I have a hard time seeing the world well. I also know that above all, I should watch Christ and follow Him in love. Rather than participating in a cycle of self-obsession, keep our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith. I'll leave you with a few words from Paul to consider:
"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
Matthew Swift's love of learning has taken him from the California mountains, to Baylor University, to the University of Chicago Law School. He's a sucker for vocal harmonies, complex stories, and most foods involving cream cheese. Although he doesn't blog, he enjoys conversing about the connections between everything from finance and philosophy to grace and government. He's a pilgrim in more ways than one.