Editor's note:

Author Rebec­ca DeY­oung says that reflec­tion on the vices is one part of the prac­tice of self-exam­i­na­tion, but that prac­tice must first and always be framed by the love of God, which stead­fast­ly holds us. Pro­ceed in the con­fi­dence that when we con­fess our sin­ful nature and die to sin, it is only a pre­lude to God’s cre­ation of a beau­ti­ful new life in us.”

In this arti­cle, Richard Fos­ter and Tere­sa of Ávi­la join us to put an excla­ma­tion point on that state­ment in an illu­mi­na­tion of the Prayer of Exa­m­en. In this excerpt from Richard’s book Prayer: Find­ing the Heart’s True Home, we dis­cov­er how self-knowl­edge of our own sin leads us to a self-accep­tance and a self-love that draw their life from God’s accep­tance and love.”

For more on the top­ic, check out this con­ver­sa­tion between Rebec­ca DeY­oung (author of Glit­ter­ing Vices), Chris Hall (Pres­i­dent of Ren­o­varé), and Car­olyn Arends (Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion, Renovaré).

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home

By now a ques­tion may have arisen in your mind. What is the pur­pose of all this exam­i­na­tion busi­ness any­way? Just what are we expect­ing it to accom­plish? It is an hon­est ques­tion, and it deserves an hon­est answer. Actu­al­ly the answer is easy to state; it is the val­ue of the answer that is dif­fi­cult to articulate.

The Prayer of Exa­m­en pro­duces with­in us the price­less grace of self-knowl­edge. I wish I could ade­quate­ly explain to you how great a grace this tru­ly is. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, con­tem­po­rary men and women sim­ply do not val­ue self-knowl­edge in the same way that all pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tions have. For us tech­no­crat­ic knowl­edge reigns supreme. Even when we pur­sue self-knowl­edge, we all too often reduce it to a hedo­nis­tic search for per­son­al peace and pros­per­i­ty. How poor we are! Even the pagan philoso­phers were wis­er than this gen­er­a­tion. They knew that an unex­am­ined life was not worth liv­ing. Know thy­self” is the famous dic­tum of Socrates. 

Saint Tere­sa of Avi­la under­stood the val­ue of self-knowl­edge. In her auto­bi­og­ra­phy she writes, This path of self-knowl­edge must nev­er be aban­doned, nor is there on this jour­ney a soul so much a giant that it has no need to return often to the stage of an infant and a suck­ling.” Self-knowl­edge is not only foun­da­tion­al but also a foun­da­tion that can nev­er be for­got­ten. We are to come back to this most basic way of prayer over and over. 

In attempt­ing to explain to explain to us the val­ue of self-knowl­edge, Tere­sa adds some­thing that sounds to us quite strange. She writes, Along this path of prayer, self-knowl­edge and the thought of one’s sins is the bread with which all palates must be fed no mat­ter how del­i­cate they may be; they can­not be sus­tained with­out this bread.” How star­tling to think that our own sin­ful­ness can be the bread by which we are fed. How can this be? 

Paul, you may remem­ber, urges us to offer our bod­ies — our very selves — as a liv­ing sac­ri­fice to God (Rom. 12:1). This offer­ing can­not be made in some abstract way with pious words or reli­gious acts. No, it must be root­ed in the accep­tance of the con­crete details of who we are and the way we live. We must come to accept and even hon­or our crea­ture­li­ness. The offer­ing of our­selves can only be the offer­ing of our lived expe­ri­ence, because this alone is who we are. And who we are — not who we want to be — is the only offer­ing we have to give. We give God there­fore not just our strengths but also our weak­ness­es, not just our gift­ed­ness but also our bro­ken­ness. Our duplic­i­ty, our lust, our nar­cis­sism, our sloth — all are laid on the altar of sacrifice. 

We must not deny or ignore the depth of our evil, for, para­dox­i­cal­ly, our sin­ful­ness becomes our bread. When in hon­esty we accept the evil that is in us as part of the truth about our­selves and offer that truth up to God, we are in a mys­te­ri­ous way nour­ished. Even the truth about our shad­ow side sets us free (John 8:32).

There is, there­fore, no need to repress, sup­press, or sub­li­mate any of God’s truth about our­selves. Full, total, unvar­nished self-knowl­edge is the bread by which we are sus­tained. A yes to life means an hon­est recog­ni­tion of our own evil, but it is also a yes to God, who in the midst of our evil sus­tains us and draws us into his righteousness. 

Through faith, self-knowl­edge leads us to a self-accep­tance and a self-love that draw their life from God’s accep­tance and love. So Saint Tere­sa is right after all; this is the bread with which all palates must be fed.” Her words are wise coun­sel indeed: This path of self-knowl­edge must nev­er be abandoned.”

Excerpt­ed from Prayer: Find­ing the Heart’s True Home by Richard J. Fos­ter (Harper­Collins, 1992).

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