Introductory 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 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).

Text First Published September 1992 · Last Featured on April 2020

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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