The Struggle with Self-Awareness

Dear Matthew, 

Thanks so much for your letter. And wow! I hope it doesn’t sound patronizing for me to say I’m proud of you. It’s easy to walk away from failure, but it takes a steely type of nerve to walk away from success. As they say in France, “chapeau !”  

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up the idea of “finding oneself” was seen as ego-centric and self-serving. Especially in the Christian community, where we are all supposed to be “other”-centered. But I’m beginning to see things differently. I think your journey to rediscover yourself is a holy journey. I have recently become convinced of the value of (even need for!) self-awareness. If done well, this is not a path to self-absorption, but rather a means of deliverance from the self. The fact is, we are generally more self-absorbed than we want to admit, but we don’t even know it because we aren’t self-aware! 

What’s surprising about your story is not that you got lost—but that you long to be found. Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by lost people who know the way home but refuse to take it. Being lost is more tolerable, for some, than taking the journey home. You’ve read Campbell. You know what I’m talking about. When we make that journey home (and I’m on it, too, but I’ll get to that later) we have to face the cliché ghosts of our past. And that’s not pretty. Or easy. Or fun. So rather than go there, many choose (as I did for a time) to medicate their lostness. They prefer the numbness you so adeptly described to the pain of being found. 

Actually, I’m realizing that what most call a “midlife crisis” is actually the life event when middle aged people start figuring out how to go numb so they can avoid the struggle of self-awareness. The crisis isn’t so much about losing one’s youth or even facing mortality, it’s more about the fear of finding one’s self and not liking what we find. 

I know because I’ve recently started staring down that dragon myself. And I’m shaking in my boots. I’ve thought about turning back, feigning ignorance, or opting for the numbness. But your letter helps me to see that I’m not alone. And something deep within me, something I’d like to believe is the divine, is calling me onward…urging me to come home. Like you, I long to be found. And so with fear and trembling, I’m trying to find my way. 

I’ve got to run, but I’ve much more to say. I’ll get another letter off to you later this week, sharing more of my story, which is similar to yours in many ways. In the meantime, you are in my prayers.