Several months ago, after I wrote a post about my need for silence, stillness, and solitude, I had an email exchange with an acquaintance from church—we’ll call him Ben—who wrote to me about his own need for solitude. By day he works in customer service; by night he parents and writes music.
What struck me most in his email to me was the horrible self-consciousness, the multiple-mindedness, the temptation to glory-hog, and the simultaneous desire to glorify God, all of which I share. But what really drew me up short, in the best way, was his assertion that our praise and shame both belong to God (I’d never thought of my shame belonging to God!). Those words are the capstone of his letter, which I have been pondering these past few months, and which he so kindly allowed me to share with you.
As an introvert who works a people intensive, customer service focused job, I relate to the need to find a peaceful space to think. And that space is never truly peaceful unless I am somehow able to forget to dwell on other people’s opinions of me. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted worrying about negative impressions I imagine I’ve created, situations I could have handled better, how I am being perceived by clients or aquaintances who may be evaluating my performance or judging my character.
I have memories, as a child, of playing a game of ping pong or soccer, and literally thinking of nothing but the game the whole time. The joy of top spin and angles across the ping pong table, the feel of the soccer ball as I dribbled and jostled (or at least attempted to do so) my way past opposing players—looking back, both of these experiences were instances of single-minded, single-hearted focus that was completely unselfconscious.
I also remember in college, playing piano in one of the music hall’s small practice rooms—door shut, building quiet except for maybe the muffled sound of others practicing—wondering if perhaps someone was standing outside my door listening … wondering if they were impressed with what they heard. I remember sometimes I would have to go and check the door before I could relax and just play.
Even now, I sometimes come home from work and am unable to concentrate on the games my children want to play, or the things they want to tell me, because my mind is still replaying problems or worries from work; the most intense worries always revolve around mistakes I may have made, problems I have yet to solve, customers who are not completely happy. The ability to mentally put something down when I am not working on it, to let it be until it is time to consider it again so that I can focus on what is in front of me, is something I crave. I am finding the only way this is remotely possible is to give my glory to God.
My glory (the praise that I receive, the praise I hope to receive, the value I hope others will find in me) is a weight around my neck. I can never hope to maintain the level of praise needed to sustain my self worth from the people around me.
The only way to escape it is to recognize the truth that any glory from some goodness that shines in me is really attributable to God’s work and presence in my life. It belongs to him and he is the rightful owner.
Likewise, any shame, incompetence, or lack of grace or patience that might cause others to think ill of me—belongs to God as well. This time, not because of his doing, but because he has claimed it on the cross and through his grace.
I am his workmanship, either way. I need to give him his glory, and spend my life reaching for his grace.
What do we really have, anyway, except right now? Of what value is fame? If the answer is to make a difference in the world, is not God the only one who really knows the pressure points that will advance his Kingdom? And doesn’t God often do his work in quiet ways that the world fails to recognize?
Yes, He does. But I confess: I have not wanted to walk the quiet, small way that the world fails to recognize.
I long for significance (we all do), and I have bought our culture’s bill of goods that fame equals significance, and so I have striven to be known, because the better known I am, the more significant I am. I have balked at the thought of Jesus’ paltry lifetime following of 12 or (by some accounts) 70. I have more friends than that on Facebook, thank you very much!
But Ben’s words were a sign post for me back in February. I wanted to share them with you because they speak of the matters that have been on my heart and mind these past months and because they pointed me further down a path I was already walking, a path that is leading me in unexpected byways, to unexpected places. More on that later this month. For now, it is good to be back, typing letters on this screen. I had almost forgotten how much I love that simple act.