“Self Aware: See Yourself ” by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we started a new series called Self Aware!

Self-aware people succeed because they are able to take feedback without getting defensive. They have a growth mindset that allows them to receive feedback, filter out the noise, and make positive changes. How can standing in God’s grace allow us to remove the fear of feedback from others? How can knowing how God sees us give us the confidence to have a growth mindset? Let’s explore these ideas together!

Next Steps:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

“Self Aware: See Yourself” Next Steps

Message Video:

Message Notes by John Burke:

Mirrors are an important part of life—And there are all kinds of mirrors, all kinds of feedback.  We must have feedback in school or work to learn anything new. Feedback helps us grow. At the same time, we hate feedback because it shows where we’re not perfect—and though we say No Perfect People Allowed, many struggle to embrace what that means—especially when it comes to relational / spiritual feedback.

Marriage researcher John Gottman says that “a person’s willingness and ability to accept influence and input from their spouse is a key predictor of a healthy, stable marriage. In contrast, working or living with someone who shuts out feedback or responds with defensiveness and arguments is exhausting.”  

In this pandemic, many of us face relational/spiritual mirrors we may want to shatter. However, these relational mirrors are the most important if we truly want to Love God, Love People, and grow into our best selves. To get there, we must grow more self-aware.

People who are self-aware are people who tend to rise in the ranks at work, have healthy marriages and adult kids who actually like them. Self-aware people are the people we all want to be around. 

That’s why we’re doing this series.

  • Growing spiritually and relationally requires self-awareness.
  • Growing in self-awareness requires mirrors – asking for and learning how to use feedback from others. 

Growing in feedback is not easy. We easily get hurt, angry, defensive when told there’s a black spot on our relational backside. Why is that?

Sheila Heen and Doug Stone, Harvard Law Professors who wrote Thanks for the Feedback, point out the following:

“Research on happiness identifies ongoing learning and growth as a core ingredient of satisfaction in life. We may be wired to learn, but it turns out that learning about ourselves is a whole different ball game. Learning about ourselves can be painful—sometimes brutally so—and the feedback…can feel less like a ‘gift of learning’ and more like a colonoscopy.”

As a result, we avoid from relational feedback.

We all know people who are painfully unaware of how they affect us or others. Everyone else knows, but they can’t see it. It’s like a spiritual blindness, a blind spot.

We all know people who can’t receive feedback without becoming angry or defensive, offended or self-righteous, even hostile.

We don’t like that trait in others, so we need to make sure it’s not true of us. 

Jesus called it out in the religious leaders of his day: They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” (Matthew 15:14)

Jesus warns us not to be spiritually blind people who think we know ourselves well, we think we see accurately, but we won’t listen to feedback that contradicts our self-view. In that case, Jesus warns us with a metaphor,

“But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” (Matthew 6:23)

Listen carefully to Jesus, if you think you see yourself accurately, but you won’t consider feedback and seek God’s help to grow—then you’re spiritually/relationally in the dark. That’s a deep darkness, Jesus says, because that person is spiritually blind, but can’t see it–defensiveness, hurt, anger or self-righteousness keeps them blind.

Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked: “Are you saying we’re blind?” 
“If you were blind, [if you could admit it and seek My help Jesus is saying] you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see. (John 9:40-41)

We don’t want to be like the Pharisees of Jesus day who would not admit there must be areas where they did not see themselves clearly, so they remained in darkness. 

The painful reality of being Human is I cannot see my backside.  Not without a mirror. We are all blind to some things about ourselves. We can all be deceived.

Jesus’ inner core disciples he personally chose to lead his church were all deceived.

  • Peter proudly proclaims “I’ll never forsake you.” He did 3 times that night.
  • James and John think they can be #1 and #2 in Jesus’ kingdom. He has to give them some painful feedback for growth. 

Let me ask you some critical questions:

  • Do you have blind spots?
  • Do you think you can be deceived or blind to something?

Answer that before God right now because this series is a waste of time if you already see yourself 100% accurately.

This is pride versus humility. We all know we can’t see our backside without mirrors. But if we can’t admit we have a relational/spiritual backside we can’t see unless others hold up a mirror of feedback—we’re in the dark, and how great is that darkness. Now, I believe the reason you’re taking time to watch this is that deep down, you want to grow. It feels good to grow. That’s why Jesus admonishes us, in love, Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. (Luke 11:35)


Week by week we will build principles that help us be more self-aware, confident, spiritually grounded people who can take feedback, weigh it out, and use the useful and throw away the trash. If you do, you will grow into a more loving, emotionally in-tune, relationally powerful person that others are attracted to. 

Proverbs says Listen to advice and accept discipline [feedback and correction], and at the end you will be counted among the wise. (Proverbs 19:20)

The 4 Principles for Self-Awareness:

1). Standing in Grace
2). Postured to Receive Feedback
3). Openminded to Change
4). Looping Back for Feedback

Let’s dive into the first principle we’ll spend all our time on today: Standing in Grace.

Why is this so foundational for growing in self-awareness?
Because Grace lets us see ourselves from God’s perspective. We must first view ourselves in the Mirror of God’s Grace to endure and grow from painful feedback. If you don’t know how to Stand in Grace, feedback will feel threatening.

Stone and Heen explain: “In addition to our desire to learn and improve, we long for something else that is fundamental: to be loved, accepted, and respected just as we are. And the very fact of feedback suggests that how we are is not quite okay. So we bristle: Why can’t you accept me for who I am and how I am? Why are there always more adjustments, more upgrades? Why is it so hard for you to understand me? Hey boss, hey team. Hey wife, hey Dad. Here I am. This is me. Receiving feedback sits at the intersection of these two needs—our drive to learn and our longing for acceptance. These needs run deep, and the tension between them is not going away.” 

These 2 Harvard Law professors nailed the problem.  If you and I don’t have a secure foundation of love and acceptance, Standing in God’s Grace, we will forever be trying to by our performance and how others grade us.

Without Standing in Grace, negative feedback threatens our most essential needs which are to be loved, valued, and accepted “as is.”

  • So if we interpret feedback as a threat to being loved, valued, accepted as a person, we will do whatever it takes to get this need met.
  • So if feeling loved, valued, accepted depends on how you grade my actions—I must make sure my actions are perfect or that you see that I’m right.

Without Standing in Grace, we hear feedback through a shame filter.

For example, a spouse or friend is trying to say: “what you said hurt me” but we hear “You’re a hurtful person—there’s something unworthy of love in your character.” 

If we hear feedback this way, we either become depressed and feeling we are doomed, flawed, and forever unacceptable, or we try to defend our character, resist the feedback by explaining our intentions, or we attack and fight because what’s being threatened is our deepest need to be loved and accepted.

Now here’s the real problem with this. Nobody at first understands why they react the way they do when feedback feels threatening.  It’s not a conscious choice. It’s an ingrained view of self.

For example, many of you have been part of some of our reconciliation and justice network discussions this summer or maybe you have been reading on how to do our part in ending racism. As a church, I’m praying we can model a path forward—showing how God’s reconciliation and Standing in Grace helps us listen to the other, heal, and grow. But this can be a difficult topic that triggers us—it can also be a great chance to grow in self-awareness—why am I feeling this?

In some ways, America is like a couple in marriage counseling trying to give feedback, with neither giving it nor receiving it perfectly.  People of color are giving feedback saying, “I’ve experienced racism and unequal treatment because of my skin or ethnicity.” 

Maybe you hear the feedback as personal or attacking you. When someone says: “America struggles with racism,” it’s easy to get defensive and respond “But I’m not racist!” But that’s not what that person said.

If many are giving the same feedback, maybe we have a national blindspot.

If I get defensive—why am I reacting that way? If I’m Standing in Grace, I can learn to listen to feedback, even if it’s hard to hear or they don’t deliver it well, without taking it as a personal character attack.  Then God can help us look at what might need to change.

As a white, male American I don’t have to think about this, and I’ve realized, maybe that’s part of the problem. Until it becomes disruptive or personal, we don’t think about it. But now, I have a granddaughter who is bi-racial, and when I start to think “Is she going to experience what many of my Latina Gateway friends say they experienced?” Now it affects me and my family.

If you’re a Christ follower, what our brothers and sisters of color are saying IS your family. God created a family of many ethnicities, look at Revelation 7. We are brothers and sisters of a new family, and God gave us the ministry of reconciliation. We need to all care and lead the way in how reconciliation can happen. But first, we must Stand in Grace in order to change.

Now, the good news is, with God’s help, we can change—as individuals, as a church community, as a nation. God made us to grow relationally, spiritually, for our entire lives.

NO Perfect People Allowed—we say that because if you are perfect, you don’t need to grow, and if you don’t need to grow—you ARE GOD. Congratulations—bad news for the rest of us. But if you’re willing to admit you’re not God. Don’t know everything. Even may have blind spots—physically, but also relationally and spiritually.  There’s GREAT HOPE.

And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”[a]6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. (1 Peter 5:5-6)

So the first principle of Growing in Self Awareness is to learn to Stand in Grace, then feedback can become a gift. Why is that? Because God never intended you to be disconnected from His Love, His declaration of your value, secure and accepted by God. God created you to get your core need for Love, Worth, and Acceptance first from Him.  When you stand on that solid foundation—you can hear feedback from others without any need to sink into feeling “I’m worthless” or defend or fight to prove you’re right or justified—because you’re already fully loved, fully worthy, fully accepted by the ONLY One in the Universe who knows ultimate truth.

I want to show you some theology—what God says is true–but it’s critical not just to know about this, but to stand in it. Grace is God’s Favor given freely—it’s not deserved.

Here’s how to stand in Grace in order to grow in Self-Awareness.

First, You were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

Even still, For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23).

No perfect people allowed. You have done wrong. You have blind spots. You’re not done growing. We have to admit that, or we’re stuck, in the dark]

Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. [He not only forgives all our sins—he sets us in right relationship to our Creator] He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe (Romans 3:23-25).

Belief is not just mental assent.

If I truly believe an airplane is trustworthy, I don’t just say it but I get on board and act on what I believe.

So when we believe or trust what God says, we Stand IN Love, Value, Acceptance.  Nothing can take that away—no matter what feedback we get on our actions or how people view us.

As His followers, we are now commissioned to bring heaven to earth as we love God and love people. He gives us purpose and the chance to change our world – the very same people who messed it up. That’s Grace.

Now, many Christians know that intellectually, yet don’t stand in it experientially. Especially when it comes to relational/spiritual feedback.  We say we believe Airplanes can safely fly, but we give in to fear and never experience flying.

Here’s how to know if you’re Standing in Grace when you get Feedback.

1. Do you feel horrible about yourself when you hear negative relational feedback?

Grace says you’re VALUED, WORTHY -(loved, chosen, child of God). By the way, people won’t give feedback well. God wants us to differentiate our standing from our doing and from people’s opinions.  We are loved, even when we do wrong, but when you hurt someone close, they may not differentiate character from deeds.

Good feedback doesn’t assassinate character: “When you say one thing but don’t follow through, it makes me question our friendship.” But in their hurt they may throw garbage in there “You never do what you say—you’re not a trustworthy person.”

People aren’t good at giving good feedback that separates actions from character—so they may do character assassination feedback. That’s okay. We’re going to learn to take it to God and sift through the gems and throw out the garbage because it’s not for their sake that we’re growing in self-awareness. It’s for our sake. It’s how we love God by growing into people who can Stand in His Grace and love others better—no matter what they say or do.

So you hear “you’re a terrible friend, you never do what you say.”  You feel horrible – too horrible. “I’m a horrible person. I suck” and you withdraw from the friendship.  That’s the voice of shame which is garbage.

Standing in Grace means you learn listen without reacting, even write it down, then take it to God. First Stand in Grace—what does God say is true about you? Your worth and value to God?

Read Ephesians 1

[God] has blessed [Steve] us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because [Steve is] we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved [Steve] us and chose [Steve] us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes [without fault!]. God decided in advance to adopt [Steve]us into his own family by bringing [Steve] us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Ephesians 1:3-5).

See this? Don’t just believe it, stand in it. Let it change your reaction to negative feedback.

Evil wants to make you feel less than because of the family you were born into, or because of the color of your skin, or because of what you have or don’t have. You’re not a failure as a person, you’re not worthless, you’re not unlovable, don’t let shame lie to you.

This is your identity in Christ God has loved you and chosen you—when? Before he made the world. Meaning—his view of you has always been his chosen, loved, child.  He brought you into his family and loved you—not because you did right or wrong—because You are his. You give him great pleasure. (My Granddaughter gives me great pleasure—she is SO loved, because she’s mine). You are God’s by Grace. So Stand in Grace—this is your true value and worth, no matter what others may say.

Why is that important? 

Because Standing in Grace, negative feedback is not threatening. You can listen carefully, ask questions without reacting then you can take it to God in prayer.

“Okay Lord, I know I’m not a worthless friend. I know I’m not an unlovable failure of a person because you say the opposite. So what is the nugget of gold – any truth about my actions?”

That’s key because actions can change. How can I grow to be a better friend or better spouse or better racial reconciler?  See?  Standing in Grace frees you to receive feedback and grow.

2. Do you get defensive when you hear negative relational feedback

Grace calls you BLAMELESS. Here’s why this often happens. We know what our heart is, what our motives were, and what we intended.  They’re saying something that doesn’t reflect what we meant, so we defend ourselves. We defend our character, our intentions.  But that posture of defensiveness keeps us blinded to what we may need to see to grow more self-aware. Our intentions were good. Is it possible we still hurt the person, even with good intentions?  Anyone ever defended their good intentions to you, when their actions hurt you? That defensiveness wasn’t helpful, was it. You feel they’re not hearing you, just justifying what they did.  This causes so many marital problems. So if you find yourself defending—Stand in Grace.

Say to yourself: “I don’t need to defend—I have a Defense Attorney.” 

If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts…But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate [Defense Attorney] who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world (1 John 1:10-2:2).

Jesus is literally your Defense Attorney.

  • He defends you against injustice.
  • He makes your wrongs right before God, the only righteous Judge.
  • You are blameless in his sight (that’s what Ephesians 1 said). 

Why? He is your Defense so that you can humbly look honestly at wrongs (we all do them), at blind spots (we all have them), and let him help you change and grow instead of defending and staying unchanged.  Defensiveness shatters the mirrors God uses to help us grow. So when you want to explain why—what’s true about your heart, your character—don’t do it. Not yet.

Tell yourself “I have a Defense Attorney who says I’m not condemned. I’m acquitted.”

He already paid for justice even if you did wrong—why? So instead of being defensive, you can grow into your best self.

3. Do you try to please people when they give negative relational feedback?

Grace makes you SECURE. Don’t miss this. God doesn’t want you to change to please people who give negative feedback. This may sound confusing, but God doesn’t want you living to please people.

The Apostle Paul says, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant (Galatians 1:10)

If negative feedback spins you into a people-pleasing frenzy then you’re not Standing in Grace.

  • Take the feedback to God.
  • Read that passage in Ephesians 1—you give God great pleasure and you are loved, valued accepted as is. 
  • Now, in the freedom of that Security—that Grace—ask God “Is there a nugget of truth that I can change to grow into a better parent, spouse, worker, friend?  I want to let You change me to please You, not them.”

Growing in Self-Awareness Principle

1). Stand in Grace which allows you to do what we will talk more about in the coming weeks

2). Postured to Receive Feedback

We’ll talk about how to posture yourself to take feedback from family or at work, and truly see it as a gift. We’ll talk about how to stay open-minded and really listen when it’s hard to hear. So many of you are learning to do this in groups. You have stayed connected with your life group via video, even though you’re tired of  being online, and miss being in person. Many of you have entered into the reconciliation and justice conversations to stretch and grow, or you have even asked spiritual running partners to speak openly into your life. These are good things! We can make this difficult time become a great time of spiritual growth, in relationship with God. And that feels good, like a sports team getting better after every season. Get connected and grow with us through this.

3). Openminded to Change

How to plot a course with God for changing your actions – doing what you sense God wants.  This is freeing because it doesn’t always mean that feedback person will be happy or praise you. In fact, they may not, but that’s their issue if you do this well. You’ll feel free.

4). Looping back for Feedback

Spiritually mature people will loop back to grow the relationship, they keep looking for multiple sources of feedback to improve. 

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