Emblazoned over the doors of several divinity schools are some words of the Apostle Paul: Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Minds.
It’s a mantra that has governed theological education ever since Paul penned those words to the church in Rome. He speaks to the nature of life lived with God: to be constantly learning about God and about ourselves in light of God such that our minds are transformed, renewed, by what they learn.
Which is what college should do! It should transform us, deepen our understanding of who God has called us to be and how God has called us to serve this world. Jenna, Chase, Dane, and Katie Beth are full of promise. They are uniquely talented individuals who have already proven to be of great service to our church, to the community, and even to state-wide programs. They have all the potential in the world in front of them and we are certainly proud as a church to send them off today.
As our seniors embark for Georgia Southern, the University of Georgia, and Berry College, this is my hope and prayer for them: that in the learning they do there, whether in the biological sciences, business management, animal sciences, or in political science, their learning renews their minds, transforming them ever more into the person God has designed them to be.
Let’s hear the larger context of those words: be transformed by the renewing of your minds, found in Romans 12:1-8.
This is a very famous scripture indeed. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times. Growing up, especially in youth group, I heard it all the time.
And when I heard it, the focus was always on sacrifice: Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Don’t be conformed to this world, meaning give up worldly pleasures.
Less discussed, if ever, was Paul’s call to be transformed by the renewing of your minds. It’s a call in equal measure to offering ourselves as sacrifices and it’s the antidote to conforming to the patterns of this world. Those three: offering, transformation, and nonconformance, are all linked together.
But what does that mean, what does it look like, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?
Part of my discipline, my self-sacrifice, is personal study. This is beyond study related to sermons or teaching or church leadership; it’s what I do for me. That’s been a habit for a long time. And lately, I’ve been reading about the Enneagram.
Among my peers, the Enneagram has gained much popularity. It’s an ancient system of understanding different kinds of people in the world; identified by numbers 1-9. I initially dismissed it as yet another personality inventory. I’m really over those. I’ve done every kind imaginable, finding out I’m an INFP or that I’m green or that I’m a strategist-empowerer; and none of them I found particularly helpful.
But the Enneagram I have discovered is different. It’s spiritual first, not psychological. It’s from and still grounded in Christianity, not the social sciences. And among churches of various denominations and of various kinds, it’s gained quite the following.
It’s power is in helping us understand ourselves not from the perspective of our best, which is what most personality inventories do. It, instead, does the very uncomfortable thing of considering us from our sin and wounds, from the ways in which our personalities lead us to be unhealthy and spread that unhealthiness to others. It seeks to help us deal with our wounds and sin so that we may be the person God has made us to be: one who promotes healing and goodness in the world. For the Enneagram says what scripture says, that we were created for a special purpose, given gifts by our creator to be used to heal the world and promote the good. That’s what Paul gets into in the latter part of our scripture.
But here’s the kicker: by unhealthy, the Enneagram means how most of us tend to be more often than not.
Consider this: “Unhealthy eights are preoccupied with the idea that they are going to be betrayed. Suspicious and slow to trust others, they resort to revenge when wronged. They believe they can change reality, and they make their own rules and expect others to follow them. Eights in this space destroy as much as they create, believing the world is a place where people are objects to be used and contributions from others have little or no lasting value.” (Cron, The Road Back to You, 41-42)
That describes me when I am unhealthy and what used to be my natural state. And some days, it still is.
It’s tough to admit but powerful and transformative, when we do: we all have unhealthy selves. And unchecked, if we go about life without being self-aware, without examining ourselves, without being transformed by the renewing of our minds, we simply live life in this unhealthy state. We hurt people, we destroy relationships, we cause damage; in short, we live lives of constant or near-constant drama. And when drama comes, we blame others for it, unable to admit to our own unhealthiness.
As the old adage says, “hurting people hurt people.” The problem often is when we are hurting and don’t know it, but act out of that hurt anyway. That’s the definition of lacking in self-awareness.
And that’s what Paul means this morning. What does it mean, what does it look like, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?
It means to become a self-aware person.
So often when there is conflict, the issue at hand is complicated by two people, who are unhealthy, acting out of their unhealthy selves. Consider, for example, a family that is no longer fighting over an inheritance or a surprising revelation or some other thing; instead, the family is fighting out old wounds that were brought up by the initial dispute over money. The family members at odds act out of their hurt, their unhealthy selves.
Paul says transformation of the conflict would come if each person involved could pause, see their wounds and how those are driving the conflict, ask God for healing, and then come back to the table. That’s being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It sounds simple, but we know it to be so hard.
So often, we have known this reality: conflict brings stress. Stress brings on our unhealthy selves. Unhealthy selves cause drama which can cause relationship loss. Which brings more conflict. Then more stress. And the spiral continues.
For this tends to be the normal state of affairs. Because we’re all sinful, wounded, hurting creatures with malformations in our personalities. That’s what the Enneagram brings to the surface so that we can deal with our wounds, with our unhealthy selves. Becoming aware of them, admitting to them, and learning to deal with them, is being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It requires that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, presenting our wounds and sins, so that God can come and help us deal with those unhealthy selves in a way that is often painful but leads to transformation.
It’s a tough journey, but it’s a worthwhile journey. It’s been a hard journey for me and I imagine it will remain a difficult journey. But it’s the journey to which God calls us, so that we can be the healer, the giver, the exhorter, the teacher, the leader, God has called us to be.
And that begins by admitting to the presence of this unhealthy self, one that we all have, for that is the first step toward healing, toward moving from a hurting person who hurts people to a healthy person who heals people, toward becoming the fullness of who God intends for us to be.
And the next step? That’s the challenge of the rest of our lives. To go to God in spiritual discipline, in prayer, and to engage in one of the hardest things of all in life: self-reflection. Why? Because a self-reflecting person is a self-aware person; a person who has been transformed by the renewing of his or her mind.
Self-aware people are powerful people. Consider the difference in my type, 8, when it’s healthy. We just heard how, in my unhealthy state, where we all begin, I destroy things, I’m brash and difficult with people, I’m suspicious and actively protecting myself against betrayal that’s often more perceived than real.
When I’m healthy, when my mind has been transformed, when I’m self-aware, here’s how I am, “Healthy eights are great friends, exceptional leaders and champions of those who cannot fight on their own behalf. They have the intelligence, courage and stamina to do what others say can’t be done. They have learned to use power in the right measure at the right times, and they are capable of collaborating and valuing the contributions of others. They understand vulnerability and even embrace it at times.” (Cron, The Road Back to You, 41)
Such a massive difference. And what makes the difference is the “renewal of our minds.” It’s self-awareness. Such comes through self-reflection. As we find sin and wounds, we present those to God for healing. We work through the ugly sides of ourselves, we push through pain, so that God can heal us. This is the journey to self-awareness; to being healthy. Then we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be, instead of a hurting person who hurts others, a healthy person who heals others.
That’s the transformation to which Paul calls us; a transformation to a self-aware person.
Today, do you engage in self-reflection? When stressed, when hurting, when struggling, when there’s drama in your life, do you ask yourself what role you played in it? Do you ask yourself how you contributed to it? Do you seek to understand better the complexities of your soul to know why you take offense or get hurt by certain things? Or do you simply blame others for all of that?
So here’s the challenge moving forward: practice the spiritual discipline of self-reflection. There are two steps to that. First, get a journal. Start journaling. It’s helpful to write the answers to the questions that you’ll ask yourself. It may only be a crutch until you can get used to it in your head, but it’s very helpful when beginning, especially if we are unskilled in the area of self-reflection. And I say unskilled on purpose: it’s a skill that requires cultivation like any other.
Second, have someone with whom you can talk frankly and honestly about your actions and attitudes. Someone who can help you see where you need to be more aware of sin and wounds that are driving decisions or actions. Someone who can help you become more self-aware. Sometimes that’s a mentor, sometimes that’s a close friend, but have someone with whom you can do that.
When we are on the journey toward self-awareness, we are powerful forces for good. As we wrestle with our sin and wounds, more and more of who God made us to be shines forth. We were created for a special purpose, with special gifts that lead toward a life of creating good in the world. We need to wrestle with our sin and wounds in order for that beautiful self God gave us to shine through, making a tremendous difference in the world.
For when we do, we build things, we create things, we help to heal other people, we leave things better than we found them. We become the people to whom others come when they are suffering and struggling. We become the people who can fix things and leave them fixed, who can cut through drama and end conflicts, who can lead in a way others can follow.
We can all be that way. But college in particular is a crucible where, if we allow the heat to refine us, we can quickly become a self-aware human being who offers healing and goodness to the world. As Jenna, Chase, Dane, and Katie Beth go forward, my prayer for them is this: that they are transformed by the renewing of their minds, such that they leave even more self-aware, able to offer the healing and goodness to the world that God designed them to give.
Let us practice self-reflection. Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
People who are not self-aware hurt others and destroy things. They cause drama and experience much drama.
People who are self-aware heal others and build things. They cause peace and experience much peace.
Hurting people hurt people. Healthy people heal people.
Be transformed by the renewal of your minds.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.