Book Review: The Gift of Being Yourself

Book Review: The Gift of Being Yourself—The Sacred Call of Self-Discovery

By: David Benner

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830832453

“There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.” ~~Thomas Merton

24 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25

24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:23-26

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20

I really enjoyed this book. Time and again as I moved from chapter to chapter, I found personal connection to the things Dr. Benner was writing. It was the revelation of “I” crucified many years ago in my own life that set me on the journey I am on today.

I don’t think this book is for the faint of heart…at least not those who are not ready for deep and serious soul searching examination. The Gift of Being Yourself is about unmasking and forsaking the false self that so many of us have created, the masked personifications of ourselves we hide behind.

The first chapter of the book, Transformational Knowing of Self and God, sets the premise that we cannot know God without knowing ourselves first and Benner quotes several great writers (John Calvin, Thomas a’Kempis, and Augustine) of Christian thought to support this premise. I do not find this premise incongruous with what Scripture teaches us in as much as we understand “knowing God” as developing a deep and meaningful relationship with Him. It is with this understanding that I found complete agreement in a statement Benner makes with the continuing development of his premise; he writes:

“Knowing God and knowing self are therefore interdependent. Neither can proceed very far without the other. Paradoxically, we come to know God best not by looking at God exclusively, but by looking at God and then looking at ourselves—then looking at God, and then again looking at ourselves. This is also the way we best come to know ourselves. Both God and self are mostly fully known in relationship to each other.” (p.26)

Once Dr. Benner establishes the premise of knowing self, he moves to chapter two and begins to construct a baseline for Knowing God. It is my understanding of this baseline that knowing God consists of full surrender of self (we must know the true self first in order to surrender), and then move on to a continuing exploration of experiential intimacy in relationship with God. Benner describes the relationship as coming primarily with knowledge and friendship with Jesus. He makes the distinction in the type of knowledge he speaks with a wonderful quote from J. I. Packer who said, “…a little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about Him.”

In further developing the knowledge of God, Benner points the reader-seeker to Jesus in the Gospels. He also provides several tools for the surrendered seeker to experiment with as they meet God-in-the-flesh through Jesus. Some of these tools include imaginative reading, contemplative reading (aka Lectio Divina), the examen, and journaling.

A significant portion of the book (chapters 3-5) is spent helping the reader understand the true self. Benner explains the importance of this understanding by saying, “Knowing ourselves must therefore begin by knowing the self that is known by God. If God does not know us, we do not exist.” This statement made me pause a moment and consider words I remembered Jesus saying in Matthew 7:23; “Depart from me, I never knew you…” I pondered a question in my own mind that seemed to make sense; is our true self the only us that is known by God? Perhaps this is why Jesus says “away from me, I never knew you” to a person who knows about God, but does not know of God having lived the entirety of their life in the guise of the false self. And, I continue even today to consider this…

As I said, chapters three, four, and five are deep, soul-searching chapters. I spent much time highlighting and writing in the margins of the book in these chapters as I found point after point that I had realized in my own journey. I found new ways of articulating some of my own experiences and was greatly affirmed in what I discovered. For instance, one of the lies I believed before surrendering myself to God fully was the idea and fear of “losing my identity.” I was scared I would become some weird automaton facsimile of myself. Realizing “my identity” was something I needed to lose; I trusted God and surrendered my self to Him. It was in this act that I found a practical understanding of “dying to self” and the realization of Galatians 2:20, being crucified with Christ. Dr. Benner explains it as follows:

“Crucifixion should be directed toward our sin nature. And we must first accept it as our nature, not simply human nature. Only after we genuinely know and accept everything we find within our self can we begin to develop the discernment to know what should be crucified and what should be embraced as an important part of self.” (p.58)

Chapter five, Unmasking Your False Self, was one of the most heavily highlighted and annotated chapters of the book for me (chapter six being the other). My attention was on full alert as Benner made this challenging statement. “The only hope for unmasking the falsity that resides at the core of our being is a radical encounter with truth. Nothing other than truth is strong enough to dispel illusion. And only the Spirit of Truth can save us from the consequences of having listened to the serpent rather than God.”

Benner describes the original sin of Adam as the same sin that continues to separate and confuse our relationship with God. He describes the confusion with these words;

“Their (Adam and Eve) desire to be like God was not in itself the problem. For God had created them in the Divine image and wanted them to be like God. However, God’s gift of likeness was quite different from that offered by the deceiver. The core of the lie that Adam and Eve believed was that they could be like God without God. But without God the most we can ever do is make ourselves into god.” (p.79)

The remainder of chapter five never slows pace from that point. Dr. Benner brings to light many things that cause us to stumble and be challenged in our efforts to know God. All of these challenges are directly related to the confusion of our identity, our true identity, which can only be found in Christ. And, as stated in the opening premise of the book, in order to know God-Christ, I have to know myself.

The final chapter, Becoming Your True Self, was a wonderful and hope-inspired reprieve from the previous three chapters. The hope of finding our true self and finding that self in God is shared by Benner with these words:

“We do not find our true self by seeking it. Rather, we find it by seeking God. For as I have said, in finding God we find our truest and deepest self. (p91)

Although the chapter is not long (seventeen pages), it covers a lot of ground. With discovery of our true self, we find purpose, unique identity, vocation (or calling), and a real sense of the ability to love and be loved. Many comparisons and examples are made to the life of Jesus as illustrated and depicted in the Gospels… He is after all, our model; “follow me…” Similarly, as Jesus stated his purpose was to do the will of His Father, our calling and self-fulfillment makes this our purpose as well:

“My calling… is to be a kingdom servant of Yahweh. But the way I am to do that is ground in the self that God created.” (p.102) “Christ’s way to self-fulfillment is not like any way we could ever have imagined. His way involves losing our life so that we might find it, dying so that that we might live. His way is always the way of the cross. Death always precedes new life.” (p.104) “Paradoxically, our fulfillment lies in the death of our own agendas of fulfillment. It also lies in the crucifixion of all our ego-centered ways of living apart from complete surrender to God.” (p.105)

As I said near the beginning of this review, this book is not for the faint of heart. It is a serious and very rewarding book for those who would take to heart the instructions and experience shared by the author, Dr. David Benner. I found the book very encouraging and affirming with my personal experience. I also found new insight and understanding to some of those experiences. Additionally, I have found new ways to share the freedom of my own journey and relationship with God in ways that might be beneficial to other persons seeking an unencumbered true self relationship. The Gift of Being Yourself is truly a gift and would be a great addition to any library.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Intervarsity Press to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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