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Our need to be self-aware

05 June 2015

KENT is not Nepal. But does that mean that Kent doesn't matter?

The tectonic plates that shifted recently beneath the coastal town of Sandwich had implications across Kent. Many were woken at 2.55 a.m., one man describing it as "like having a car driven into your house". It was not the biggest of quakes: it measured 4.2, compared with 7.2 in Nepal. One mother reported that her child slept through it, "so I can now truthfully say: 'She'd sleep through an earthquake.'''

No properties were damaged, and no one was hurt; so does that mean it doesn't count? I heard one person describing his terror, and then saying sheepishly: "I know it was nothing like Nepal."

This made me sad. He felt unable to say how he felt, simply because others had felt it worse. "Oh, my situation is nothing compared to those people." Such self-denial is nothing grander than an under-developed sense of self masquerading as virtue.

A woman came to see me recently and spoke for 50 minutes about everyone but herself. Towards the end of our time together, I suggested that she talk about herself for a moment. "You've talked about your husband, your children, your mother, and your children's friends' parents - but you haven't spoken of yourself."

"Me?" she said, with some anger. "What's there to say about me?" It came as a huge shock to this 40-something to find that her life was entirely defined by others; that her sense of self was gasping for air. It perhaps also pointed to what was waking her at night - her long-lost self wanting a word, perhaps?

Alarm bells may now be ringing loudly for some. Following Jesus, they say, is all about denying self, not finding it. "Self-indulgent navel-gazing", they say - a pejorative yet catchy line to keep the flock in order and removed from self-awareness. "We look to God, not to ourselves."

But these people shoot themselves in the foot; for we cannot say goodbye to something until we have said hello to it. How can I deny someone whom I have never known? Once I have fully appreciated my majesty, my utter glory, then, perhaps, I can begin to lay it down, or give it away, as they say Jesus did - but not until then.

It reminds me of the depressed man I knew who would always speak about the homeless. "I've got nothing to complain about," he would say, expecting to be admired for these sentiments. But, really, it was a virtuous cover for his refusal to face his own feelings.

When Jesus hung on the cross, he did not say "My God, my God, why have you abandoned so many more deserving souls than me when they needed help?" No, he said: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

Kent matters.

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