The Spirituality of Talking About Yourself by Andrew Le Peau for The Gospel Coalition
GNN Note – Testimony, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful tools we have to draw people to Christ. Sharing our journey, as is done on this website everyday through the Daily Devotional, helps others to see how Jesus uses our brokenness and darkness to shine the Light of His love into others hearts. It’s important that we know how to share our story so that it’s not just a way of feeding our ego (false pride).
Speaking, preaching, and writing for publication can be a spiritual tightrope. On the one hand we’re told as Christians not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, and on the other we’re told that as writers and speakers we should talk about ourselves so that audiences can identify with us. By being vulnerable we can draw in readers and listeners, and so help them benefit from our life and work.
John Stott—well-known London pastor, writer, and speaker who died in 2011—was famously reluctant to say anything about himself. Though his books sold millions and he spoke to thousands all over the world, he almost never said anything about his own life. Stott navigated the tightrope by simply getting off it. He remained staunchly Bible-focused.
That is clearly one valid way to resolve the issue. Yet we can benefit greatly from writing and speaking directly about ourselves, telling stories about ourselves. Doing so can be an exercise in remembering. And when we remember, we have an opportunity for confession and for thanksgiving to God.
If we do decide to write or speak directly about ourselves, how can we be sure we don’t fall into self-absorption? Perhaps we can gain some clues from one of the most famous instances of a Christian writing about himself. In fact, his book essentially created the whole genre of spiritual memoir more than 1,500 years ago. I’m talking, of course, about Augustine and his Confessions.
Augustine, the great African theologian and churchman, lived from AD 354 to 430. He migrated to Italy, where he converted to Christianity. He then returned to Africa and became bishop of Hippo (present-day Algeria). He was a prolific writer. Other than the Confessions, his book The City of God is probably his best-known volume.
Confessions chronicles his life from his earliest days (even offering reflections on what was possibly going on in him while still in his mother’s womb!) into early adulthood. He does not systematically tell us everything about himself but instead focuses on his moral and intellectual development as they relate to and culminate in his conversion to Christianity at age 31. For me, several aspects stand out about how Augustine exercised the spiritual discipline of gaining perspective, even while focusing on himself.
1. Confesses His Sins and His Faith
The book is called Confessions for good reason. Augustine confesses to God in two ways. One, obviously, is by confessing his sin. He notes his propensity for stealing, gluttony, and cheating as a child and a teen along with his strong sexual urges. He confesses disobeying parents and teachers, as well as his thirst for the praise of others.
He also admits his narrow, inadequate intellectual efforts. He evaluated some of his previous thinking this way: “I didn’t yet see that the pivot of such an important matter is in your artistry, All-Powerful One, since on your own you make wonders” (97–98). He couldn’t really understand the fullness of beauty or reality if God was not in the picture—especially if he didn’t see that God was the artist who painted the picture.