Whose Praise Are You Seeking?
Recently, I wrote about how we often hold other people to standards that we don't apply to ourselves. The shorthand version of this is that we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.
But most of us also do something else that's far more destructive: We tend to believe that if our intentions are good, we are excused from any fallout that may occur when we pursue them without regard to who or what gets harmed along the way.
We also tend to fall in love with the notion that "doing good" is the ultimate virtue and that by doing good, we, too, are good because we're doing it.
Our culture of immediacy seems to reward us for appearances rather than substance. This is why we want to shape our image on social media, crafting an idealized image of ourselves.
So we carefully curate photos and posts to show the world who we are. In reality, most of us project our good intentions onto the idealized version of ourselves as a "good" parent, spouse, friend, and all-around genuine human being.
I get that the impulse to do this is powerful. We want to believe that we're the kind of people we portray to the world around us. And when we share this image with others, we hope for the kind of affirmation that will assure us we're right.
Interestingly, in the first century, Jesus addressed this very thing with a teaching that spoke directly to the need for many of us to be recognized and seen as people doing good.
He told his followers that they should fast and pray "in secret," and when they gave to do so in such a way that they wouldn't let their right hand know what their left hand is doing.
That last line was a very tongue-in-cheek first-century rabbinical way of saying, "keep a low profile, and don't seek attention for doing what you ought to be doing."
Jesus said that we are all playing to an audience of One- the One is God and no one else. The only affirmation we should seek is the knowledge that we are living our lives as God means for us to live them.
Fr. Richard Rohr once wrote:
False sacrifice is an actual avoidance of any real “renouncing” of the self, while looking generous or dedicated.
The moment we seek the recognition or affirmation of others for living a godly life is the moment we begin to lose the plot. As followers of Jesus, we should never seek to be the focal point of whatever good we might do in the world.
Our calling is to die to ourselves, let go of our need for affirmation from others, and instead call attention to the restorative, resurrecting power of Christ in the world.
St. Augustine put it like this:
Whoever wants others to see their good works so that God, who gave them their good works, may be glorified, their light truly shines before others... These people don't do good to be seen but so that God may be revealed through them.
May we all seek to do good in the world for the sake of the Kingdom of God and to embody Christ to all those around us. May we resist the temptation for glory but let our light shine as a reflection of God's glory, love, and justice.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.