The healing effect of true self-knowledge
It’s tough to overstate the role self-knowledge plays in our lives. There’s lots to say about it, but I’ve found something in Mary Baker Eddy’s writings especially interesting.
In her striking article “The Way,” found in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, Mrs. Eddy writes about what it takes to grow in our understanding and practice of Christian Science: “This absolute demonstration of Science must be revived. To consummate this desideratum, mortal mind must pass through three stages of growth” (p. 355). She goes on to name and describe these three stages in detail: self-knowledge, humility, and love. Let’s take that first stage and really dive in.
In my practice of Christian Science, I’ve sometimes been tempted to think that the requirement to have self-knowledge is a barb of strong encouragement that I must pass along to another—something like, “If you’d just be more self-aware, then we’d be able to move past this.” But I’ve been learning that Mrs. Eddy’s wise counsel is not something designed for me to throw at other people in hopes that they’ll shape up. I have to follow this counsel myself!
Prayer isn’t something you do to someone; it’s an attitude of thought that signals our willingness to hear what God alone is saying!
I had a recent experience that illustrated this for me beautifully. I was participating in a trash cleanup at a local lake with my kindergartner son and some friends. My son didn’t realize how much of a marsh he was standing in and slipped off some sticks into the water. The water was only ankle deep, but this slip was an understandably surprising event—and his cries were letting everyone know about it.
I immediately went to him, taking him onto the grass and comforting him, or at least trying to, but he just kept wailing. I started to wish he would just stop freaking out. Yes, the water was cold; yes, it was surprising; yes, I understand—but can’t you settle down?! I was trying to pray to feel peace and to help him feel peace, but I just couldn’t make any progress. We finally decided that going home to get dry shoes and to get warm indoors would be the best decision.
We got in the car, and as we pulled away with the tears still flowing, a gentle thought came to me. I realized I wasn’t actually upset about my son’s attitude; I was embarrassed because I was concerned that the other dads there might think my son was a wimp and that I was a bad dad because I couldn’t get my son to calm down. I also realized I was still a little angry and frustrated about an unrelated email I’d received earlier in the day. That mental space of embarrassment and anger wasn’t a space that allowed me to see healing. I needed to truly pray for and with my son instead of just trying to make him cheer up.
But prayer isn’t something you do to someone; it’s an attitude of thought that signals our own willingness to hear what God alone is saying! To pray with someone isn’t to make something happen to them or to make them do something; it’s to stand in humble awareness of the transforming power and presence of God and the light of His Christ.
This Christ, which Jesus represented and demonstrated, is neither a physical personality nor some abstract concept. Christ is the presence of God, through which we see divine Life and Love expressed.
This Christ is still here today. It reaches into human hearts and minds and heals us. This perfect light and love revealed to me what I was afraid of, what I was holding on to. And seeing by that divine light, I simply could no longer believe that those thoughts of embarrassment, anger, and fear had any hold on me or my son. The Christ doesn’t just show us how to let go; it also shows us what is always and only ours as God’s loved children, and that expressed power of God takes away any fear of, or fascination with, whatever is unlike good.
John the Baptist declared that the light of Christ was like a baptism of fire (see Luke 3:16). This “baptism” burns away what isn’t ours—not through our own personal power but through the action of God, divine Love.
Self-knowledge is not a frantic searching for what we’ve done wrong or a self-satisfied lecture to other people.
That loving light of the Christ—which was showing me what I had been holding in my heart and burning away those inharmonious thoughts—healed me of shame, self-centeredness, and anger. And wouldn’t you know it: Within ten seconds of my feeling this divine peace, my son completely stopped crying. This wasn’t the gentle stopping of tears over the course of minutes; he had been crying pretty hard since stepping in the water, and now he just stopped. I looked back, he smiled, and that was that. You could have cut the peace in our car with a knife!
Reflecting on this experience later that afternoon, I was so grateful to realize that this was what self-knowledge really felt like. I saw that self-knowledge wasn’t some almost psychological process of dissecting my thoughts, my context, my motives, my desires, etc. This true self-knowledge was entirely based in the selfless light and loving knowledge of Christ—of the here-and-now presence, action, and law of God, which were fully modeled and demonstrated in the life and career of the Master, Christ Jesus.
The way to find peace was neither through being impatient and unhappy with my son, nor through trying to pray at him to make him feel peace while I was still harboring embarrassment and anger in my own thought. With self-knowledge, illuminated through the healing light of Christ, I could quietly recognize that those negative thoughts simply weren’t mine. I could let go of them—could let the light of Christ burn them away; and when I did, the presence of peace was felt by us both.
Self-knowledge, then, is not a frantic searching for what we’ve done wrong or a self-satisfied lecture to other people about what they’ve done wrong. True self-knowledge, illuminated by the love of God, shows us what is ours and what isn’t ours as God’s spiritual reflection. And as we recognize what doesn’t belong to us and naturally let the Christ show us how to let it go, we experience the presence of peace and healing.
We don’t need to solve relationship problems or any discordant situation in our lives by poring over human history and trying to resolve things through our supposed personal power. The light of Christ, the Truth of being, informs us what’s truly ours, and we experience the blossoming of it in our lives. The revelation of Spirit as the only real power and presence brings healing for all.