A Recovering Perfectionist and Self-Examination {Book Club}

My perfectionist tendencies build up a wall around my heart and it’s hard to be honest and vulnerable. For so many years I wanted people to see only the very best parts of me, the ones that revealed I had it all together and knew what I was doing in life.

Those walls also affected my relationship with God. Everything in my conversations and interactions with Him stayed on the surface because I was afraid of what He would think of me if He saw the depths of my heart. But I slowly began to realize that this was no way to live in relationship with the God of the universe, the creator of my soul and body. He knew me intimately anyway and He still loved me relentlessly.

We come to the practice of self-examination in our journey reading through Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. Not exactly a enticing one, is it? Yet this important rhythm in our spiritual life can help us open up to the ways God desires to work in us. Barton says, “Self-examination is a practice that facilitates spiritual awakening- an awakening to the presence of God as God really is and an awakening to ourselves as we really are.” We must open up the gate, break down the walls that surround our hearts.

Barton uses Psalm 139 to help us work through an understanding of the process of self-examination. This has always been one of my favorite passages of Scripture and I was struck by the truths that Barton pulled out for us to ponder. I’ve always loved the comfort brought by God’s presence anywhere I go. There’s no corner of the world that He can’t reach me. What verses stick out to you in Psalm 139?

David models for us in this passage what Barton describes as the examen of consciousness and the examen of conscience. First, we have to become aware of our understanding of God and who He is. Then, we open up our hearts to let God reveal our true selves.

At first glance, this process sounds intimidating and painful. I might jump to shame over my thoughts, actions, and the parts of my soul and personality that I find lacking. I am quick to see all the things I could have done differently, things I wish I could have said in the moment. But Barton points out, “As painful as it is to have these layers of the false self stripped away, it is really evidence of God’s grace.”

I have not done it consistently, but for awhile I used an app called Reimagining the Examen (iTunes and Google). It was an invitation to review my day- all my interactions, my words, my thoughts, my intentions- with grace and humility to look for what God might be saying or wanting to teach me. There are different topics and ways of focusing for each day, prompts to encourage gratitude and a slow, intentional opening of my heart before God. It was uncomfortable at first, especially on the days when my temper was short and I remembered all the missed opportunities to love others well. But I also got the chance to reflect on the moments I was grateful for, the choices to be courageous or caring.  I appreciated this daily rhythm so that I could think about a short time-period and not review my entire life (although this is important too).

Even when we do bump up against the ugliness of our sin nature and the messiness of close relationships, God is there when we confess and offers His grace and forgiveness. Confession can be a pathway to freedom as we let go of the things holding on to us, rather than adding a burden of shame.

Do you practice a regular time of self-examination? What struck you in this chapter? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Thank you for reading along with us as we continue diving in to Sacred Rhythms! Here’s the schedule for the rest of the book.

April 16: Chapter 7

April 23: Chapter 8

April 30: Chapter 9 and Appendices

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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  1. Jodie April 8, 2019

    I really liked this quote as well as the way she explored our attempts to hide and self-protect out of a fear of being truly known, in contrast with David’s relational security with God as seen in Psalm 139 that enabled him to invite God to search him and to know him:

    “A balanced approach to spiritual transformation involves joyful acceptance of who we are as one of God’s greatest gifts to ourselves and to others. This goodness includes the uniqueness of our body, our personality, the configuration of our soul and its unique way of relating to God, our background and experience, even those things that we might consider to be liabilities or deformities.”

    1. Sarah Hilkemann April 11, 2019

      I definitely know my acceptance of myself influences how I open up myself to God and to others! Getting to the place of seeing all those aspects of myself in a place of security is important (and I’m definitely not there yet). Thanks for sharing this, Jodie!

  2. Phyllis April 10, 2019

    Thanks for the app recommendation. I used to use a different one, and I look forward to trying this one.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann April 11, 2019

      Phyllis, I would love to hear what you think if you get a chance to try it!

  3. SarahW April 11, 2019

    I really enjoyed Barton’s pointing out that the invitation in Psalm 139 for God to search me and know me is really about God inviting me to know myself in His presence. Like Jodie, I was impressed by that relational security – God already knows me and still invites me. I don’t have to hide my shadow self from Him but can open to Him and His love.
    I have practiced the examen at various times in my life. Most often that has been as simple as asking myself where I most experienced God today and where I least experienced Him. A variation is to consider what the highs/lows of my day have been and how I sensed God’s presence or perceived absence during those times. A retreat leader reminded me that both the highs and the lows can lead me to or away from God.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann April 12, 2019

      Sarah, thanks so much for sharing these thoughts! I love your first line about the invitation to know myself in God’s presence. I often feel like I’m pretty good at understanding my motivations and personality and reasons for doing things, but there’s a lot that I miss too. I need the Father to uncover those hidden things and bring to the surface what we need to work on together. I also love your ideas for practicing the examen! 🙂

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