I have gone through a lot of my adult life without thinking too deeply. Not to say I haven’t been involved in deep theological discussions, intellectual conversations, chatted about interesting trivia, or had impacting dialog about current events. Rather I have not thought extensively about the motives and actions of those around me, or what my actions and words speak to those around me. In part, I have lived the unexamined life.
It is only in the past few years that I truly began looking more inward and reflecting on the purpose of my actions, asking myself the hard question about my motives in certain situations. I have begun critically analyzing the words of others and what they actually meant when they said (or didn’t say) something.
This has led to good, necessary personal growth. Although I wouldn’t characterize myself as having been shallow in my consideration for others, I no longer dance through life without thinking about those around me and how my actions or words may affect them. Instead I feel more in tune with my community. I listen more. I talk less. (Although some of my friends may disagree with that last part.) I contemplate and ask questions. I pray more about how to respond — even in the moment — and do my best to choose my words carefully. I listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting when giving advice and counsel to friends.
It’s an exercise of sorts. It takes practice and work. I am not good at it yet and don’t feel that I will ever actually be great. But then again, if I ever feel like I’ve succeeded in this area then I am probably living the unexamined life again.
The Word gives us great examples of people living the examined life. David in Psalm 139:23-24 asks God to search his heart. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” In Lamentations 3:40-41 Jeremiah encourages the people of Judah to look at their motives when he says, “Then why should we, mere humans, complain when we are punished for our sins? Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the Lord.” And in Proverbs 5:21 it tells us that God examines our lives: “For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths.”
And so I do the same. I ask God to look at my heart, search my motives, call me out when I’ve overstepped or under-looked.
There are several questions I constantly ask myself to keep myself in check:
Why – Why did I react that way? Why did they react that way? (What don’t I know about the situation or the person’s background that will give me greater depth of understanding?)
What – What is my responsibility in this situation? What am I taking on that isn’t mine?
How – How am I supposed to respond that will be God honoring?
These questions keep me grounded to those around me and connected to the One above me. They allow me to walk out the examined life and become the woman of God that I am called to be. These questions aren’t perfect or complete — they are being refined, reworded and added to all the time. But they are a framework and highlight where I am right now in life’s journey.
What excites or scares you about living the examined life? What in your life deserves to be further examined? What is the biggest question you need to ask yourself to begin or continue the process of examination? In what ways do you need to allow God to be God in your life and let Him examine you?