i have been given the power of speech. there is no intrinsic merit in this; it is not something for which i should be especially admired or respected. to possess this gift, like any other natural ability, is a blessing bestowed by God; admiration and respect should be directed toward him. the challenge facing me is how i use this gift. do i develop it through seeking guidance of accomplished speakers and through practice? more importantly, do i use it in the service of God or myself? of course i may also claim to use it in God's service, and even congratulate myself on the excellent sermons i preach. but how easily pride infects the use of this gift. when i hold the attention of a congregation, when each person is concentrating on my every word, when my eloquence stirs every heart that hears me, how easily my head begins to swell. instead of simply being a mouthpiece of God, i begin to imagine myself divine. the gift of speech, which is truly a blessing, can so easily become a curse, poisoning the soul that possesses it.
>> john chrysostom.
the deep secrecy of my own being is often hidden from me by my own estimate of what i am. my idea of what i am is falsified by my admiration for what i do. and my illusions about myself are bred by contagion from the illusions of other [people]. we all seek to imitate one another’s imagined greatness.
if i do not know who i am, it is because i think i am the sort of person everyone around me wants to be. perhaps i have never asked myself whether i really wanted to become what everybody else seems to want to become. perhaps if i only realized that i do not admire what everyone seems to admire, i would really begin to live after all. i would be liberated from the painful duty of saying what i really do not think and of acting in a way that betrays God’s truth and the integrity of my own soul.
why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?
we cannot be ourselves unless we know ourselves. but self-knowledge is impossible when thoughtless and automatic activity keeps our souls in confusion. in order to know ourselves it is not necessary to cease all activity in order to think about ourselves. that would be useless, and would probably do most of us a great deal of harm. but we have to cut down our activity to the point where we can think calmly and reasonably about our actions. we cannot begin to know ourselves until we can see the real reasons why we do the things we do, and we cannot be ourselves until our actions correspond to our intentions, and our intentions are appropriate to our own situation. but that is enough. it is not necessary that we succeed in everything. a [person] can be perfect and still reap no fruit from [their] work, and it may happen that a [person] who is able to accomplish very little is much more of a person than another who seems to accomplish very much.