Dr. David Benner guides you through a journey of self-discovery in The Gift of Being Yourself. After reading this book I will make this required reading for all of my LMCs (those seeking to be ordained elders in the Free Methodist Church) and all of my leadership teams. Weary of books that deal with the false-self and the true-self I have found already began finding significant freedom as a result of the journey this book invited me into. If you haven’t read it please buy it and start today.
Chapter one, Transformational Knowing of Self and God, argues that in order to truly know God we must know ourselves – both the false-self we have created and the self God designed in the secret place (Psalm 139). Benner begins the chapter by asking, What would you define as the most important thing for existence and well-being? He argues that most Christians would conclude God (in one way or another). He helps the reader understand that finding ourselves is an integral part of finding God – even though much of evangelical Christianity downplays the self.
Chapter two, Knowing God, is devoted to knowing God; more specifically, how we know God. Benner argues that all we know or think we know of God must be filtered through Jesus of Nazareth who is the visible image of the invisible God. He offers three practices for discovering who this God is through Jesus: (1) mediating/imagining the gospels (my own personal breakthrough in discovering my true self came through such an exercise and can be read here); (2) practicing awareness of God’s presence in the daily moments of life (Richard Rohr reminds us that, “we cannot attain the presence of God. We’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.” – pg. 42); (3) practicing the prayer of examen. (for an example of this kind of prayer click here)
Chapter three, First Steps Toward Knowing Yourself, addresses the importance of accepting yourself as your are (broken and false) and the difference between believing and knowing God’s love. Until we accept the false-self we have created and sit with all the parts of that self in the presence of God we can never discover who God truly designed us to be. Likewise, as long as we hold a false perception of how God sees us (as sinners) we will never know the love of God, that declares we are deeply loved sinners. (Again, personally this was a monumental part of my own discovery of who I am – moving from believing God loves me to knowing or experiencing God’s love for me.)
Chapter four, Knowing Yourself as You Really Are, looks at sin tendencies. Benner suggests that behind our sins hides a core need that manifests itself through temptation tendencies. We all experience a variety of temptations and needs, but at the core of our hidden selves is a core need and a core sin tendency. These needs and tendencies are as follows: need to be … tempted by …
- perfect … self-righteous anger (Paul)
- loved and needed … pride (Martha)
- successful … deceit (Jacob)
- special … envy, escapist fantasy and compromise of authenticity
- knowledge and fulfillment … greed, stinginess and critical detachment
- security … fear, self-doubt and cowardice
- avoid pain … gluttony and intemperance
- power, self-reliance and opportunities to be against something … lust, arrogance, and the desire to possess and control others
- maintain emotional peace and avoid initiative … laziness, comfortable illusions and being overly accomodating
Often the most obvious sin tendency or need is not our core, but only a mask behind which our core need or tendency is hiding behind.
Chapter five, Unmasking Your False Self, guides the reader in (the beginning of) the process of discovering your core sin tendency. Several questions must be asked and prayed through: (1) What trait(s) about myself do I prize above all others?; (2) What are my “innocent indulgences”?; (3) What do I “grasp” for (other than Christ)?; (4) What causes me to become defensive?; (5) What are my pet peeves?; (6) What am I compulsive about? As one prayerfully (and honestly) works through these questions he or she will understand more fully the false self they are operating within.
Chapter six, Becoming Your True Self, (and the epilogue) is really a confession that the end of the book is only the beginning of the journey. It looks at the process of how Jesus discovered his vocation (his calling and place in the plan of God). It is based on the assumption that since Jesus is fully human and fully divine then he is fully human, meaning he too had to discover his vocation. Benner offers some suggestions for likewise discovering our vocation, our place in the plan of God.
I am excited and terrified by what I am learning through these thoughts and exercises. I am hopeful that the God who began a good work in me will bring it to completion.