Therefore the one who made me is good, and he himself is my good, and in his name I rejoice in all the good things that comprised me, even as a boy.
My sin was that I sought not in God himself, but in things he had created—in myself and the rest of his creation—delights, heights, and perceptions of what was true and right, and in this way I collapsed into sufferings, embarrassments, and erring ways.— Saint Augustine, Confessions 1.31
Augustine begins book one by stating that because we have been made with God as our goal, “our heart is restless until it rests in you [God].” (1.1) And he ends the book by coming back to this idea. Augustine has reflected on the childish nature of his sinful selfishness. He has reflected on how this sinful problem has caused him to seek self-value in all the wrong places (i.e. education, success, applause, status…). Finally achieving everything he has ever wanted, rather than being happy, he finds himself feeling empty.
Augustine pursued all these things because he “didn’t like to be misled.” He wanted to have an opinion, a voice, an intellectual and accurate understanding of the world. He had “a strong memory” and “was on the way to being equipped with articulate speech” and had a large network of friends. He had everything he needed to avoid “pain, humiliation, empty-headedness.” Yet, he still felt empty.
Augustine has learned what many of us intellectually know, but have a hard time truly understanding. For many of us, this is knowledge, not wisdom. For Augustine, it has become wisdom. Augustine finally sees that all that he has are good divine gifts, but that is all that they are. The end is not the gift, the end is God. Yes, all that he has is good, but as Augustine states in the quote above “the one who made me is good, and he himself is my good.”
Augustine’s sin was that he sought happiness not in God but in the gifts. He sought happiness in “delights, heights, and perceptions of what was true and right” and instead of having a positive result, his only return was “sufferings, embarrassments, and erring ways.”
If you were to ask me, “what is one piece of advice you would give a younger you?” my answer would be: character, virtue, and Godliness will get you farther than charisma. What Augustine learned, I learned. And I learned it in the same painful way.
For many years I struggled with my self-worth because I felt that I was not smart enough, able enough, rich enough, strong enough, fast enough, good looking enough. And when I finally saw my intellectual abilities I invested in my learning as much as I could. If I could not be the best at anything else, maybe I could be the best in the academic field. Maybe then, I figured, after I have accomplished high academic acolytes people will finally respect me and value me. But the higher I climbed the more insecure I became. The prouder I became. And why? Because whatever we put our value in will never be enough. If we put our value in beauty, we will never feel pretty enough. If we put our value in money we will never have enough. If we put our value in intelligence, status, or reputation we will feel like imposters who need to justify themselves.
Yes, gifts are good, but they are not the end. Our end is God: to have him, to be like him, to be in him. On the day when this becomes more than knowledge for us when it finally becomes wisdom, we will finally pray together with Augustine:
My heart is restless until it rests in you
Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.