Self knowledge a life-long lesson

Reflections on Life
Father Jerome LeDoux
Letting go of anyone, anything at any level, in any relationship, under any circumstances and at any time can be one of the most difficult of all things to learn and, finally, to do. It is also one of the most necessary things that we have to do in life, for, unless we let go at those times when it behooves us to, we can never be free of anxiety, at peace, relaxed, or enabled to be all we can be. This takes a lifetime.
Above all, there is that “Let go, let God” mandate that is so crucial to our life both material and spiritual. I first heard “Let go, let God” regularly in 1965 at Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings where the desperate of the desperate found the answer to a mystery disorder that had taken over their mind and body.
There are simply some things that we cannot do on our own. So we admit this to ourselves and to the rest of the world, we recognize and profess that there is a Higher Power who created everyone, and we allow God to take over our lives. We spend a lifetime learning this, making room for God to operate freely in our lives.
At that point, something wonderful happens. Out of our weakness, the power of God breaks through, just as we read in the epic life struggle of St. Paul sharply described to us in 2 Corinthians 12. In order that Paul might not be tempted to pride because of his mystical experiences, “whether in the body or out of the body,” “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan… Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’
“Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul was slipping into early middle age by the time he learned this. “Let go, let God” is basically allowing God to supply whatever is lacking in our weaknesses. It consists in doing what hardly any of us cares to do: relinquish control and step aside, get out of God’s way, letting God work the magic Jesus always did.
And Jesus worked those wonders because he was all about doing his Father’s will for his Father’s glory, always declaring, as in John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
We definitely spend our whole life acquiring the most intimate and most important knowledge of life: self-knowledge. Over the decades, this is a topic that I have revisited in writing a half dozen times or more because it is so indispensable, so seminal and so critical in the rooting and formation of who and what we are and hope to become someday in our bodies, minds, emotions and souls.
But will-o’-the-wisp that it is, self-knowledge is as slippery as an eel, as elusive as a wild goose and as untouchable as a phantom. Just when we think we are getting to know ourselves, we are startled by some new surprise or wrinkle within. And, while no one can know us from without, we do well to listen to their criticisms.
Unless we are very careful and vigilant, much of our life can be an illusion because at times we so willingly allow, maybe even invite illusion into our personal, private world. The greatest illusion is that it is easier to deal with illusion than with reality. That is the last step before insanity, crippling our ability to discern fantasy from reality by denying the good, the bad and the ugly in our everyday living. Step by step, living in denial will cost us peace, joy and, at some juncture, our sanity.
Today’s savants give great discourses and write books about self-knowledge, treading and retreading the same ground trod by the ancients such as the Greeks who had much to say about self-knowledge as the most basic thing in life. They thumbnailed it in γνῶθι σαὐτόν (Temet nosce in Latin): Know yourself!
Γ Ν Ω Θ Ι   Σ Α Υ Τ Ο Ν (Greek in caps) is the same precept set in gold letters over the portico of the temple at Delphi. So powerful is it that its authorship has been ascribed to Pythagoras, to several of the wise men of Greece, and to Phemonoe, a mythical Greek poetess. According to Juvenal, this precept descended from heaven.
We can safely say that this is a precept that has heavenly overtones. It is akin to the poet Alexander Pope’s famous line: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Pope improved the dictum of Seneca the younger: “To err is human; to persist, diabolical.” So difficult are both of these that, when the discussion comes down to the degree of difficulty, self-knowledge and true forgiveness run a mighty tight race. Yes, it takes a hard-fought lifetime to come to know ourselves fully as God alone knows us.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, lives in retirement at the Sacred Heart Residence in Bay St. Louis. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969).