O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli the priest. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!”[a] and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
One of the core aims of every spiritual tradition is to help us grow in knowledge of ourselves—of our gifts and strengths, our beauty and goodness, as well as our brokenness, our limits, and the things about us that call for change. Lao Tzu, philosopher founder of Taoism writes: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” I have no doubt that the world would be a better place if every person had greater self-awareness. Our personal relationships would be healthier, our participation and in society would be more helpful if we knew and understood ourselves better.
In Bible study this past Tuesday, Ellen summed up the words of Psalm 139 in a single sentence: “God knows us better than we know ourselves.” This is what the Psalmist claims. God knows everything about us. Nothing is hidden. Not our thoughts. Not our actions. Not our feelings. Not our hopes, our griefs, our joys, our regrets, our guilt. God’s knows us from the moment of our conception. God’s Spirit is with us 24/7, no matter where we are. God is Nothing about us is unknown to God. God knows us better than we know ourselves.
Whether this is a good thing or a scary thing depends on what you know about God. If God is the great judge, the unsleeping eye in the sky, watching and keeping score, well then, I’d rather God didn’t know everything about me. If God is the one who formed us in God’s image—wonderfully and awesomely—and holds us in love forever, and is invested in our becoming the persons God intends us to be—well then, I do want to know what God knows about me. We’re going to come back to Psalm 139, but first a detour into the psychological world of self-knowledge.
This colorful collection of rectangles called the Johari Window. It was created by two Jungian psychologists. It’s a tool with which to think about what we know about ourselves, what others know about us, and what we know about others. There are four windows: In the “OPEN” window we can place what is known to ourselves, and also known to others because certain things are publicly evident (people can see that I am rambunctious) or known because we have shared things about ourselves. The more time we spend with another person, the more intimate our relationship with them, then the more likely it is that they know lots and lots about us.
But, there are things that we know about ourselves, that are HIDDEN from others, because we deliberately don’t share them. We may keep things to ourselves out of shame, or because we fear how someone might respond if we reveal something, or just because we tend to be fairly private. But, it is true that some of the self-stories, thoughts, or feelings that we deliberately don’t share with anyone, if shared, would lead to deepened knowledge and a more intimate relationship.
The BLIND SPOT window focuses on what others know about us that we don’t know about ourselves. Quite literally, others see things about us that we cannot see. These can be insignificant things, like how we furrow our brow when puzzled; or significant things both positive and negative. We may be blind to our own gifts and strengths. Or blind to behaviors like, not listening well, or shutting down if we feel disrespected. We can hope that people who love us and whom we trust would tell us the truth about stuff we don’t know, so that we might become better companions, partners—better human beings!
Then finally, we have the UNKNOWN window in which are those things that neither we nor anyone else knows about us. Here we can place individual potential that is not recognized, unconscious memories, unconscious wounds, unconscious motivations. There is a reserve, a veil, a curtain, an unknowing of self that persists over our lives on this earth.
The Johari window gives us this two-dimensional model for deepening our self-knowledge. There is our self, and there are others. Individually we can become more reflective about our own selves through a variety of means like journaling, meditation, or the use of personality tools like the Enneagram. And, we can make a habit of asking for, and receiving input from others who see us pretty clearly, and know us well, and love us enough to speak the truth in love.
Now, we come back to Psalm 139 and the Psalmist’s conviction that God knows us better than we know ourselves. When we add God to the model of the Johari window, the window labeled UNKNOWN changes—there remain things that we don’t know about ourselves, but we acknowledge that there is nothing about us that is unknown to God, including the knowledge of how our lives will unfold. The search for greater self-awareness then leads us quite naturally to want to find out what God knows about us. I have had these kinds of conversations with God where I say: “Tell me God. Show me God. Share your secret knowledge of me.” God is good with this. God will reveal things about us to us. But, as I stayed with Psalm 139 all week, what kept coming to me were these words from John Calvin, our Reformed ancestor who says: “There is no true knowledge of self without knowledge of God.”
This is where the Psalmist directs our attention. The most trustworthy place to ground our self-awareness, our identity, our being, and our action in the world is in the being, identity, and action of God. God is the one who creates us in God’s own image. God is the One who gives us life. God is the One who knows us fully—the good and the beautiful, the bad and the ugly. God is the One who loves us and stays with us always. This makes possible the most honest and most intimate relationship we could ever have. With God we can stop pretending and defending ourselves. We can tell the whole truth of ourselves and remember that God is for us. God is totally invested in our becoming the selves God created us to be.
God knows our names and calls us and forms us to share with God in our one human, holy calling—to labor for the universal reconciliation and the flourishing of all that lives and moves and has being. This is huge. We each have our own unique gifts and strengths with which we respond to this God-given human vocation. But, undergirding what is unique to each of us is the one reality that solidly grounds all self-awareness—we are created, fully known, fully loved, fully redeemed by God—Father/Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In the story of Samuel, we see how all the pieces come together—there is the self, there is God, there are other people. When Samuel hears a voice calling him in the night, he does not yet know who God is or what God desires. But God knows Samuel’s name and God knows everything about him. And old Eli knows both Samuel and God. There is this community of speaking, and listening, and discerning. There is this community of love.
We are to one another Elis—companions who remind each other that we are fully known, fully loved, and completely hemmed in and held by God. We are to one another Elis—companions who in, with, and through the Holy Spirit name each other’s gifts and growing edges, and encourage each other—in the words of poet Amanda Gorman—“to step out of the shade and into the light to rebuild, reconcile and recover” what is broken. With Samuel we say: “Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.”