Several days ago, I mentioned the sermon series I'll be doing for Skagit UU Fellowship in Mt. Vernon, WA, starting Jan. 21. It consists of five theological questions that humans often struggle with in their spiritual lives.
The first question is "Who am I and what is my purpose?" I know, it's actually a two-fer. Let's not quibble------such a deal I'm giving you!
I don't intend to paste in the sermon; it's available for you to read at http://www.whidbey.com/uucwi/ in the "ministry" section, as are the other sermons in the series, if you are interested.
But what I'd like to do is think out loud about how we learn about ourselves and thereby discern our purpose in life.
We humans are self-conscious by nature. We wonder about our selves, what we are capable of, what we are most interested in or most skilled at or most desire. No other species, so far as we can tell, has humankind's interest in self-knowledge.
We make a lot of mistakes trying to figure it all out; we use others' advice and sometimes it's not such good advice. We follow our hearts or our brains and sometimes we click and sometimes we don't. And we ask the questions from the day we're born till the day we die:
Who am I? How do I know who I really am? Can I trust what I hear from others? What are the methods that will help me discern my true nature? What does it mean that I am human and how does human nature fit into the scheme of things? How do I cope with my true and human nature? And what do I do with it all?
"Just be yourself, honey" was my Dad's advice. He also added those sage words from Shakespeare, "this above all, to thine own self be true, and it will follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." So I thought about it---a lot.
Some things about myself I knew without question: my Scandinavian heritage, for example. I was a girl, whatever that meant. I was smart. I was a preacher's kid. I was big, not particularly athletic, and an oldest child.
Then there were things others told me about myself: my parents were proud of my wanting to be baptized at age 6, so I must be religious. People laughed at my cute remarks, so I must be funny. People sneered at my not-so-cute remarks, so I must be weird. I was bigger than most of my friends, so I must be fat. I didn't have a boyfriend in high school, so I must be ugly.
I didn't trust some of what others told me; their beliefs didn't always tally with my experience. Sometimes I was so confused that I gave up and gave in. Okay, they think I'm clumsy, I'll quit trying to do cartwheels.
Of course, everyone is confused about their identity as an adolescent, and I was no exception. In despair, one day in college, I resorted to a technique that has served me well ever since. I made a list!
I listed the things I knew for sure about myself. I listed the things I loved to do and the things I hated to do. I listed the things people seemed to assume about me. I listed the things that I thought nobody knew about me. I looked at this list for a long time. And then I crossed out the things that people assumed which were erroneous. I put question marks by those I thought might be the result of others' thinking, not my own. When I was done, I thought I had a pretty good picture of who I was, at least as a college freshman.
Little did I know it was only the beginning of a lifetime of asking and answering this question! My understandings of myself continue to evolve. I'll bet yours do too. I'd be interested in how others have come to understand who they are; what was your process in coming to an understanding of yourself?