Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for use in non-profit gatherings with attribution of author and blogsite.
“Be careful not to parade your piety in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.”
Jesus said this. I’ve thought of it often as I’ve posted 60+ posts on this blog, Progressive Christian Reflections, which could be viewed as my own little piety parade!
This week I’ve been revisiting the Sermon on the Mount as well as Henri Nouwen’s most intimate journal, The Inner Voice of Love. A few days ago I read the above verse and all of Jesus’ sayings about doing one’s spiritual practice in private—you know, not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing in almsgiving, praying in your pantry rather than on street corners, not “babbling as the gentiles do” in prayermaking, and avoiding a dismal face while fasting. That is, if you’re doing it for God rather than human praise.
Then I opened Henri’s journal to his next entry, and, lo and behold:
“You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.”
I LOL at the juxtaposition of seeking “reward from your Father in heaven” with “you have to let your father and father figures go.” Henri’s father survived him by a number of years, so he was bold to put this in print. Indeed, The Inner Voice of Love was coincidentally released on the day of Henri’s death.
The entry is entitled with a “spiritual imperative” to himself, “Stop Being a Pleaser,” in which Henri reflects, “For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. … But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you.”
I thought of the would-be follower of Jesus who implored him, “Let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus’ response sounds harsh, “Let the dead bury the dead,” until you learn that there’s not a corpse awaiting burial, but a very live father to whom the son is beholden until the eventual day of his death. Jesus would not win the hearts of the so-called “traditional family values” crowd by his implication that the commonwealth of God supersedes family obligations.
That’s what Henri is getting at. He only needs to please God.
But I realized as I reflected on all these “father” connections that, though I may have begun my spiritual practices to please God or parents or others, that now I do it to please me, to give myself pleasure. So long an outsider, it gives me pleasure to come inside God’s sanctuary—safe space—in contemplation. I’m not looking for another’s approbation, even God’s—as if God needed me to do this! And I share such thoughts not for reward but to model possibilities for others.