“Trust yourself.” “Follow your heart.” “Just be yourself.” “You do you.” “Be your best self.”
These kinds of phrases are often given to others as an encouragement to not follow the status quo but to be original. Be who you are. Be yourself. Be your best self, in fact. But how does one become their best self? With the millions of voices out on the internet, blogs, podcasts, twitter accounts, who do we follow to be our best selves? We should be original, but we need some help too, don’t we? In his book, Reflect, Thaddeus Williams points us to someone who is more like the sun than Pluto.
Allow me to explain.
Williams begins his book by having the reader imagine they’re going to meet their future self. You step into a cube of glass and immediately begin seeing all of your past thoughts, plans, ideas, and actions that you have ever had and done, and then all of your future ideas, plans, and actions. Your future self begins to materialize, and then before you know it, you are standing face to face with your future self (2). He writes,
Blinking before you is the person you will become if all of your loves, hates, strengths, flaws, and fears were to develop on course over the coming years. This is not a two-dimensional image doctored up with flattering filters. It is the real flesh-and-blood person you are becoming, for better or worse, staring back at you (3).
But what if you didn’t need high-tech machinery to do that. What if you only needed to ask yourself one question, “What does your life say is the most important thing in existence?” How do you spend your days? What things occupy your mind? What moves you? Excites you? Angers you? Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our loves, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming (3).
Who or what can we follow? Williams provides the image of a rebel planet, Pluto, “disgruntled and embittered by the 2006 International Astronomical Union vote that stripped him of planetary rights,” who takes his revenge upon the sun, kicking him out of his rightful place so that Pluto could sit in his place. However, Pluto’s surface is 98% frozen nitrogen and has a mass of less than a quarter of the earth’s. Without the sun, the remaining eight planets would fly off into outer space into utter chaos. Williams concludes, “The icy ex-planet’s lack of mass and radiance would soon turn earth into a cold, lifeless sphere drifting through lonesome space” (8). Jesus is the sun, the One with kavod (the Hebrew word for “glory,” which also connotes heaviness).
Williams gives us three marks of kavod.
- Glorious things are first things.
- Glorious things are unbreakable.
- Glorious things are suns (not spotlights).
I’ll give one example from this though. If we worship money, we don’t become green and wrinkly. Instead “that money lacks the intellectual properties to really illuminate the intellectual, emotional, and relational spaces in our lives. Cash is too mindless, too heartless, and too loveless. Worship it long enough and the best things in us remain dark, and we slowly appear as dumb and uncaring as cold hard cash” (12). You can’t “be your best self” if half of you is left in the dark. You may be an intellectual, but how are your emotions? Your relationships? Your loving actions toward others? Your artistic side? Your whole self needs to grow, not just a few parts of you.
For the rest of the book, Williams shows how Jesus illuminates every aspect of ourselves. He shows how we can mirror Jesus’
- profound thinking
- love toward others
- artistic genius
Yet we shouldn’t love and follow Jesus because he helps us be our better selves. Williams encourages us to love Jesus for who he is. We can’t become all of these things now. We will fail. You are simply unable to become the wisest person, let alone the most artsy, loving, gracious, and emotion-filled person all at once. But we can have the one who does all this, who is exceedingly gracious and loving toward us. As the Holy Spirit works on us (2 Cor 3:18), we become more integrated, reasoning more lovingly, and becoming more lovingly reasonable. “We create more graciously [and] we emote with more holiness” (166).
Williams offers a REFLECTion Log so you can track the ways you are and aren’t reflecting Jesus (PDF here, just click “Download Study Guide”). You can do it daily, weekly, monthly, or even annually. He ends the book with two appendices: “The secret to becoming irrelevant (spend all your time trying to be relevant)” and “Doing our theology as if it is actually true (because it is).”
I was very impressed by this book and kept telling Mari how good it was and that she would enjoy reading it too. Williams draws in stories and facts from history, poets, philosophers, and theologians. He weaves in good illustrations to carry along his point, and pints us to the One who is better all along the way. Everyone should read this.
- Author: Thaddeus J. Williams
- Paperback: 248 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (2017)
Buy this from Amazon or Lexham Press!
Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.