“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Pt. 2

Forgive

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In Part 1 of this two-part series,  we defined forgiveness as a process that moves us from the cold, unforgiving emotions of bitterness and resentment to warmer, more altruistic feelings of love and compassion towards the one who has offended us. We discussed why it’s important to forgive and how we can prepare ourselves to begin the process.           

Following are a dozen steps to bring you through the forgiveness process, and ways to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive. You may need to implement only one or two of these steps, or you might need to use all or most of them. It will depend on your particular situation. They do not have to be done in any particular order; it’s all a matter of what works for you.

 Steps to Forgiveness 

  1.  Personal Encounter: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar; go first and be reconciled with your brother” [Matthew 5:23-24].  After a cool-down period of mental and spiritual preparation, arrange a discussion with the person who hurt you. Often, much of the anger will dissipate once you are face-to-face. If handled correctly, conflict can lead to positive change.  Ask for an explanation and try to clear up any misunderstandings. It is only fair to others that we clarify what kind of behavior offends us. Do not use confrontational, accusatory language. Be respectful. Preserve your inner peace. Repeat the other person’s words back to ensure you understand their meaning. Don’t argue in circles or bring up past hurts. Keep in mind that you cannot always change someone’s point of view, and forgiveness does not always lead to reconciliation, which needs the cooperation of both parties. If you cannot resolve your conflict with someone by yourselves, call in an objective third party to mediate.

Never arrange a face-to-face meeting where you are alone with someone who has a violent temper, is abusive or otherwise unstable, or if you have difficulty controlling your own temper!  If you have been the victim of abuse, you may need to seek the help of a professional therapist to help you work through the trauma. Your safety is of paramount importance!

2.  Written Communication/Social Media: It’s important to realize that it is much easier for us to offend people or feel offended as a result of written communications as opposed to phone or in-person conversations. In this era of social media, texting and email, where communication is instantaneous, allowing little opportunity for rewrites or careful selection of our words, more and more of us are finding ourselves dealing with real or imagined offenses. 

Since 93% of communication is non-verbal, even if we do not mean to offend someone, the lack of voice inflection, facial expressions and body language in written communication can lead to misunderstandings and feelings of hurt where no hurt was intended. Also, when we are not in personal contact with other people, it is easier to feel angry towards them and say things we probably would never say face-to-face.

When you feel offended by something that was written to you, do not hastily dash off an angry, written reply. Take a break and then slowly re-read the message. You might find that you missed or misread some words, or “read between the lines” something that wasn’t actually there at all. If you still feel hurt or uncertain about the meaning of what was written, call or meet with the other person, if at all possible, and ask for clarification. You will then be in a position to discuss the situation and clear up any misunderstandings.

If verbal communication is not feasible, after a period of prayer and reflection, write a calm reply and ask the person to clarify their meaning, or present your side of the situation in a non-confrontational manner. If the other person insists on being rude and argumentative, the best response from you is none at all. There is no value in arguing with a person whose mind is closed and who does not want to compromise. If certain people are often negative or offensive on social media, it’s usually best to quietly disengage from contact with them. Most of the time, other people eventually will see these people for what they are and disregard their negative comments or cut off contact with them as well. But if other people believe the negative person’s lies or unkind remarks about you, they probably are not the kind of friends you want, anyway!

3. When no contact of any kind is possible: If the incident happened a long time ago, the other person is deceased or their whereabouts unknown, or if meeting/talking with them is inappropriate or unsafe, work through the rest of the steps in the process to bring you to a point of forgiveness and inner peace. It is not always necessary or possible for the other party to know you have forgiven them.

4. Examine your own actions. Ask yourself honestly: “Am I being overly sensitive? Did I do something to cause or exacerbate the situation? Could I have reacted more appropriately?” If you find that you are also to blame for the situation, acknowledge your part in it, apologize to the other party if possible, and above all forgive yourself as well as the other person. We all are human and we all make mistakes. Acknowledge, make amends, and move on.

5. Talk it out with someone whose judgment you trust. Don’t whine, play victim, or place blame, but discuss the event as objectively as you can. Then ask for honest feedback and receive it with an open mind. Sometimes another person’s viewpoint can help you see the situation more clearly. Tell your impartial friend not to allow you to discuss the matter repeatedly, and don’t go complaining about it to everyone you know. Continual rehashing of the incident will only deepen your feelings of resentment. Seek help from clergy, a counselor or a therapist if you continue to be deeply troubled about it.

Friends Talking over Coffee

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6. Keep a sense of proportion. Hatred and bitterness arise out of our failure to realize that “we are not in the flesh, but in the spirit.” [Romans 8:9].  As spirit, nothing and no one on earth can destroy us. Superficial differences and petty arguments become meaningless when viewed in the vast panorama of eternit

7. Shift your perspective. Although we don’t have God’s ability to see into anyone’s soul, attempting to see the incident from the other person’s point of view can often help us to forgive. One way to do this is by writing out an account of the incident as seen from your opponent’s perspective. Were there extenuating circumstances, personal problems or pressures that may have been contributing factors? By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, feelings of understanding, compassion and empathy may begin to replace the anger and pain.  

8. Release your emotions. Write honestly about your feelings in a journal, or even in a letter to the person who hurt you. Don’t hold back – this is the time to release all the

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anger, hurt and frustration you feel. However – and this is vital – NEVER send the letter! Tear it up or burn it as a symbolic way of letting go of the negative emotions. Watch an appropriate movie or TV program, read a story, or listen to music that will help you vent some of your feelings. Don’t be afraid to cry as you watch or listen — tears can have a healing, soothing effect and soften your heart towards your offender. Some people find it helpful to use physical exercise as a safety valve for pent-up emotions.

9. Focus on the other person’s strengths and qualities. If your relationship basically has been a positive one, recall all the good times you’ve shared, the things you like about the person, the many ways in which the association has benefitted you.

10. Take positive action. Many people find peace by turning their pain and anger into constructive endeavors, i.e. working to change laws, raising public awareness over social injustice, giving time and effort to charitable organizations, etc. This brings good out of the evil that was done to them.

11. Recall a specific occasion when you offended someone and were forgiven. Remember the freedom and gratitude you felt as a result of being forgiven. How would it feel to do the same for the person who hurt you? Remember, at the same time that you are praying to forgive someone, someone might be praying for the grace to forgive you!

12. Find comfort in knowing that Divine justice will ultimately prevail. If someone has treated you unfairly, and no human justice is forthcoming, don’t become discouraged or seek revenge. We have God’s promise that all will be made right, if not on earth, then in the next world:  “The Lord remembers what their enemies have done; he waits for the right time to punish them…The Lord will rescue his people when he sees that their strength is gone. He will have mercy on those who serve him, when he sees how helpless they are.” [Deut. 32:34,36].

Following Through on Forgiveness

Once you resolve to forgive, follow through on it. Write out a pledge to God and the person you are forgiving, and display it where you can see it often. Tell a third party about your commitment. This will make you more likely to stick to it.

After you have forgiven, let the matter rest and don’t bring it up with the person again.  When Jesus said to forgive someone not just once, but “seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18:22), He meant, “Don’t keep a scorecard!”     

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Forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting. There may be times when you’ll recall the incident and feel the pain all over again. It’s human nature to remember things that hurt us, part of our survival instinct to protect ourselves from being hurt in the same way again. As long as you don’t deliberately dwell on the memory to the point where you stir up bitterness and resentment again, you have not reneged on your promise to forgive. Accept and acknowledge the memories as they arise, then release them and move on.

Everyone’s experience of forgiveness will be unique. It might take time for you to be able to forgive. If you go through all the above steps and still find yourself unable to do it, don’t despair. Just continue to pray for the person who hurt you and do not dwell on hatred or bitterness. The challenge of forgiveness is not one we have to face alone. Give the situation to God and trust that He will restore light where darkness dwells, and peace where there is conflict, by infusing our hearts with the precious gift of forgiveness.

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness

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Part 1

 

Are you having trouble forgiving someone? Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore this challenge and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.

                                                            What is Forgiveness?           

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards the person(s) who offended us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and ponder on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems, but we can still let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love [charity], not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” — Christians recite these words every time they pray the Lord’s Prayer. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging. Why is it so important to forgive others?

  1. It blesses the person who offended us.
  2. We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example
  3. Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

                                                                    Preparation

  • Pray for the gift of being able to forgive: Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in his/her heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

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  • Seek inspiration: Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared [Psalm 130:3-4].

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more [Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean [Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins [Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good. [Romans 12:19-21]. 

  • Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process. Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part II, we’ll examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

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The Tree (“The Writing” Excerpt #1)

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“The Writing” (with a capital “W”)  is my term for the inspired words I sometimes have received over the years during meditation, especially when I’ve asked for guidance, help or comfort for a particular situation. They did not come from my own conscious thoughts, but flowed spontaneously from a “still, small inner voice”, a Source much more wise, serene and objective. Where I was upset, these words would be calm; where I was angry or resentful, they would be compassionate and forgiving; where I was fearful, they would be unshakably confident.  I’ll be posting them from time to time as “Excerpts from The Writing.” Here is the first one I will share, which was received some years ago at a time when I was feeling particularly stagnated and useless. I wanted to share it in the hope that it might encourage someone else going through a similar phase right now:

“A fruitful tree will sometimes be afflicted with arrested growth and tired, droopy leaves, tested by drought, wind and storms. It will ask itself, ‘Why is this happening? I’ve tried very hard to grow and give of my fruit. I guess I must have done something wrong. I should just give up and forget about every fruit I could have grown!’

“This tree asks itself over and over how it can return to the state of fruitful and productive growth it once had, because it feels useless and put-upon and shriveled up. But no matter how much it tries, nothing changes. The tree stays barren.

Your gifts are like this tree, which has no trouble bearing fruit when conditions are right, but which gets withered under constant heat, or grows too many leaves and not enough fruit when atmospheric conditions are not favorable. This is what happens with your gifts. When conditions are unfavorable, they go dormant and seem to exist no longer.

Blossoming Tree

“A time will come, however, when the sun will shine, the gentle rain will fall, and the troubled period of dormancy will pass. It will turn this tired old tree into a newly-blossoming thing of great beauty. It will want to grow again, and it will see itself bear wonderful fruit. 

“You will feel better, you will see your life improve, you will open your mind to light and truth once again and share that light with others.” 

Much later, I came upon this verse from the Psalms:

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper. [Psalms 1:3]

If you are tired and fearful right now, and sure that you will never grow or be productive again, realize that this is just your perception, not truth. You are experiencing a necessary dormancy, just as vital to your continued growth as it was for the tree. Trust in the cycles of life, and know that the breath of God will infuse new energy into you when the time is right.

 

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Pentecost Sunday

 

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The Holy Spirit has His own personality. He therefore moves in at will when we least expect it, and sometimes when we are least deserving of it. ~ R.T. Kendall

As you spend time in God’s Word and understand his love, the Holy Spirit will create new desires within you to love and serve others like never before.   ~ Chip Ingram

Let this Pentecost Sunday be the day that you let the Holy Spirit unleash His great power in your life. Invite Him to reveal His great love and caring, wisdom and guidance. He is the best Friend you will ever have!

In my last post of a few days ago, I described how my life was changed when I let the Holy Spirit into it. Right now I am going through a period of anxiety and discouragement.  I find that I cannot bring myself to continue to pray about all the problems facing me and my family right now; it feels empty and pointless. So I am leaning on the promise of St. Paul in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Groan for me, Holy Spirit, as I cannot do it alone!

Related Posts:  The Smiling Man: With Love & Praise to the Holy Spirit

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The Smiling Man

With love and praise to the Holy Spirit

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The 1990’s were for me a time of spiritual searching. I had always believed in God and had always been able to speak to Him as a Friend and Father. However, at this time I had many unresolved questions about destiny, my purpose, life in general. I was at the time of life that many of us eventually encounter, when we search for deeper meaning and purpose in our existence.

In church one day, during this period of questioning and searching, I found a prayer to the Holy Spirit written by Cardinal Mercier, a Belgian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, who lived from 1851 to 1926. The prayer was short and simple and promised to be a life-changer if said faithfully every day. The prayer card quoted Cardinal Mercier as follows:

“I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:

‘O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me know only Your Will.’”

Cardinal Mercier went on to say that if you said the prayer daily, you would receive the serenity, consolation, grace and strength of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of trials.

I didn’t know much at that time about the Holy Spirit, except for what most Christians know: He is the Third Person of the Trinity, He came to the Apostles at Pentecost, and at Confirmation He infuses us with His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord (awe). But all of these were only facts I had learned in Catechism class, not truths that I felt or understood on a deep, personal level. However, I decided to say the prayer every day and see what happened.

What gradually did occur when I put my trust in the Holy Spirit transformed my life and my relationship with God in ways I never imagined. I didn’t get all the answers to every question I had, but insights started to emerge – not the faltering human attempts at reason that the conscious mind produces, but serene, gracious, perfectly wise and loving answers that I knew were coming from a Source far greater than anything in my own power. I knew with deepest certainty that they were the true answers, because they reflected only the highest values and motives that I knew to be Truth, even at times when my human, conscious mind had been thinking just the opposite or had no answers at all.

Other changes began occurring. Because of the loving wisdom I was now perceiving in my life, God’s love became truly personal to me, a tangible thing, not merely the abstract concept I had grasped only partially before, which had consisted of thoughts like, “Yeah, I know God loves me. He has to love me, since God is Love and He created me.” Now God’s love and guidance became a real, vibrant force, not an idea or theory. Now when I heard Scripture being read or a sermon being given, I was grasping them with an understanding that really related them to my own life. I became aware that I was surrounded by love, protection and guidance from unseen sources that were as real as anything that existed in the material world – actually, more real! The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit took on meaning as powerful graces that were alive and working in my life and were mine for the asking, not just words to be memorized. I entrusted my life and my future to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and asked Him to bless me with the gifts necessary to do whatever work God had planned for me.

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At this time, I was also doing a lot of dream work, studying about dreams and keeping a dream journal. Many times, I would pray and meditate upon a question at bedtime and see what insights I might receive in my dreams. I was a vivid dreamer, and would often have detailed dreams full of personal symbolism and meaning, which I faithfully recorded and worked on interpreting (more about dreams in a future blog article)!

In March of 1995, I began praying to the Holy Spirit at bedtime, asking Him: “Please help my unbelief, and show me what serving You will mean to me.” I also requested that the Holy Spirit would show me a way to visualize Him that would be more personal than the customary depiction of Him as a dove, tongues of fire, or wind, which were hard for me to relate to. I asked Him to send me a “Divine dream.”

On the night of March 25, 1995, I received an answer in the form of the following dream, which I call “The Smiling Man:”

In the dream, I am in a building that resembled an office building. I don’t know where or why I am there. As I walk through this building, I pass a man who is looking at me with a big, friendly smile. I don’t recognize him as anyone I know. I am wondering who he is. He certainly seems to know me, since he is smiling at me in such a familiar way. So I ask a woman nearby who that man is. She replies, “Oh, that’s the Holy Spirit!” I am thrilled and awed to be seeing Him, yet I’m surprised that he looks like a mortal, human man.

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I don’t recall now exactly what He looked like, but the thing that stands out in my memory was that radiant smile He was directing at me. He looked like an ordinary person – no fanfare, no great rays of light beaming from Him, no resplendent garments, nothing “biblical” in the least – just an ordinary man with a beautiful smile.

In the next scene of the dream, I am starting a new job in that same office building, and I am introduced to the group of men for whom I will be working. They all look like the man who had been identified to me as the Holy Spirit! I remark to someone standing nearby, “Well, since they all resemble the Holy Spirit, at least I’ll get a chance to see what it’s like to work for Him! I’ll see what kind of a boss He is!” There the dream ended.

Upon awakening from this dream (it was the middle of the night), I immediately closed my eyes again to see if I could get back into the dream or see some imagery to expand upon the dream. After a few seconds of lying there with my eyes closed, I suddenly saw an image of a page with writing on it that looked like a piece of verse. I barely had time to read it before it faded and I woke up completely. I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the words of the verse:

“Every time you hear selfless human words,

Feel loving emotions,

Or help another soul,

I am there.

My Truth is in everything you do with high motives.

Live your life with spiritual Light –

You will know Me.”

These beautiful words made clear to me the meaning of the dream: The Holy Spirit had looked like an “ordinary person” because He wants me to know that God is within every person we meet. We don’t always recognize Him  — as I didn’t recognize the man in my dream as being the Holy Spirit — but He knows us intimately and loves us with an unsurpassed love, symbolized by the man’s bright, beautiful, loving smile.

In the dream I was working for men who also “resembled the Holy Spirit” and I was curious to see what working for Him would be like, what kind of “boss” He would be. To me this part of the dream symbolizes that when we serve our fellow humans, we are serving God as well.  The opportunities to serve God are often disguised as ordinary tasks of daily life.  This answered my bedtime prayer of asking the Holy Spirit to “show me what serving You would mean to me.” (Thank You, Holy Spirit!)

As Pentecost Sunday approaches, I share this dream as an encouragement to anyone who has not yet discovered what a wonderful Friend (and “Boss”) the Holy Spirit can be.  I urge you to seek Him out, ask Him to manifest in your life and draw you closer to Him. He will enlighten and guide You and share His marvelous gifts with you, if you will only open up and let His light in. As the dream symbolized, by serving our fellow humans and living in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will find true happiness and peace, and we will know God.

Happy Pentecost!

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What’s Your Motivation?

Loving Hands

Give with open hands and open heart

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In his book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks tells the story of a well-meaning, charitable woman who desperately wanted to help humankind. Although she was not famous like Mother Teresa, she spent much of her life working with the homeless and destitute. But as time went on, she became more and more fixated on the outcome of what she was doing. When she couldn’t permanently change the conditions that were causing such misery, she became increasingly angry and frustrated. Without realizing it, she had become focused on personal power. This attitude eventually destroyed both her physical and emotional health.

Why are some people able to accomplish so much good and elevate their souls to great heights, while others become bitter and disillusioned? The difference is in their motivation. To God, only the heart’s true intention is important. Heroic deeds, showy displays of pious devotion, and eloquent words, do not mean as much to God as one small gesture made out of genuine love.

Personal gratification is its own reward, and sometimes God allows it in order to encourage us. It’s natural to be happy when we receive gratitude for our service to others; it is human nature to want love and approval from other people. It’s also true that the very act of helping others brings with it a feeling of deep satisfaction and often lifts our own mood when we are feeling depressed or troubled. To enjoy these positive feelings does not mean that we are selfishly motivated.

But this alone is not the criteria by which we should judge which deeds are of the most value. We might envision ourselves accomplishing wonderful things that show us in the best possible light, but our most worthwhile achievements will not always be the ones that satisfy our ego or have an immediately apparent outcome. Rather, they might consist of things we consider insignificant.

When an actor is working on a scene, the director or drama coach will challenge the actor by asking, “What’s your motivation?” By analyzing what drives the character, the actor will understand the character’s motives and be able to portray him more believably. It might benefit us to take a cue from the actor and ask ourselves, “What’s my motivation?” before we embark on any undertaking. For me as a Christian, I must ask myself not only “What would Jesus do?” but “Why would Jesus do it?”

Here’s a checklist for determining your motivation (you have to be totally honest for it to work!):

  • Am I doing good works or helping someone so I can feel important and/or show everyone how virtuous I am? For some of us, this is often the true, secret motivation lurking behind the outward altruism. When our efforts become unrewarding and tedious, when it feels like work, when the gratitude and accolades stop coming (or never come at all), will we then simply move on to something more personally gratifying? If so, our only motivation was to please ourselves, not help others or honor God.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. They are never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. Even if we do a small thing for somebody, God, being almighty, sees everything as great. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.”

  • Am I trying to force someone to be more like me? I heard Joel Osteen confess in one of his inspiring talks that he used to criticize his wife’s habits, until one day he realized he was trying to make her over to be more like himself, even though they had distinctly different ways of doing things. This got me to thinking that all of us probably are guilty of this at one time or another. We think that just because someone doesn’t do something “our way,” he/she must be defective and needs to be made over into a “mini-me.” God has purposely created people with different personalities and ways of doing things, for a good reason! If everyone were the same, the world would be totally unbalanced. And I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest about it, the thought of everyone being like me is more than a little scary!
  • Am I making someone dependent on me? A common source of confusion is the concept of helping people versus taking over their responsibility, making them rely too much on us, or enabling them to continue on a destructive course. Many people subconsciously derive satisfaction from controlling others and making them feel indebted or dependent in an unhealthy way. Parents often do this with their children, but this co-dependent situation can exist in any relationship. Our role is not to make people dependent on us, but to help them achieve the self-respect and personal growth that come only out of effort and hardship. We also need to remember that God might have a different path in mind for this person than what we think is the “right way.” Charity

    Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Do I want to “save” someone? It’s important to realize that of our own power we cannot truly save anyone. Only God has the power to save a person, and although He might sometimes use us as instruments to accomplish this, God will not force Himself or His will on anyone. A person must want to be saved, must decide they sincerely want to overcome whatever is holding them back from spiritual development or a better, more productive life. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” [Rev. 3:20]. God will not break down a locked door, and only the person needing help can turn that key, not us! We cannot take away anyone’s suffering or figure out the reasons for it. We cannot “save” anyone. We can only offer ourselves as channels of God’s healing and love, realizing that the person we are trying to help must do their own part to open to it. 
  • Do I fulfill my religious obligations only when I’m in the mood or only because I fear God’s punishment? True, it might be better to do it for those reasons than not at all, and we all have times when we’re less than enthusiastic about our prayer time or attending religious services as we know we should. However, it would benefit us spiritually much more if we recognized these things as opportunities to show love and gratitude to God and enrich our souls. Fulfilling our spiritual obligations when we’re not in the mood is probably even more pleasing to God, because it shows Him that we are putting Him before our own feelings.

People often say, “I don’t get anything out of going to church/synagogue.” This is true for everyone at one time or another. There are times you might just sit there and not feel attentive or uplifted at all. However, you might also find, as I often have, that once you are in a place of worship, the peace and quiet and sense of God’s presence will soothe you and lift your spirits more than you expected it would. But even if this doesn’t always happen, the point is not for us to get anything out of it but to give something to God. Remember that God is never outdone in generosity – if you give Him this little bit of time out of your busy week, He will repay you in blessings a hundredfold!

  • Do I try to “bargain” with God? Sometimes we might promise God all sorts of things, and make the effort to do good works, in order to barter with God for favors (“I’ll do this for You if You give me what I want”). Then when we conclude that God did not keep “His end of the bargain,” we become bitter and disillusioned. Even if things do work out as we hoped, we often forget to keep our promises to God, or we drop our good works because we have gotten what we wanted. God does not bargain with us. He already knows what we really need (not just what we think we want) and the best possible outcome for any situation, not only for us but for others who might be involved.

God gives us blessings out of His infinite love for us, not because He is swayed by our impressive bargaining power! If God grants you a blessing and you want to do something for Him to show your gratitude, this is wonderful. But don’t dangle a carrot in front of God. He doesn’t need our carrots. Give from your heart; don’t give with strings attached.

  • Am I too focused on the outcome of my efforts? This is a tough one! We all want to know that our efforts meant something, that they had a positive effect. But not seeing results doesn’t mean our efforts were in vain or that God is displeased with our work. It simply means that the time is not yet right, or our efforts were thwarted by another person’s attitude or lack of openness. Sometimes, God has plans for our work or for another soul that do not conform to our own ideas. Having the right motives means that if God wills a different outcome, or if he doesn’t let us see successful results from our efforts, we will trust His better judgment and infinite wisdom. The only thing that matters to God is the effort we made and our intentions when we did it.

Our true worth is not measured by talent, intelligence, or worldly success, but by how much we love and how open we are to others. When we strive to be of service to God or to our fellow humans for God’s sake, rather than our own ulterior motives, our smallest actions take on a Divine magnificence, which shines through our words and actions as an inspiration to others. We all will leave this earth one day, and our deeds might be forgotten. But if our motives were pure, our actions will be glorified in eternity and our souls will be radiant reflections of God’s all-encompassing love. Our reward will far surpass our greatest efforts or any earthly satisfaction. This should be our primary motivation.

 

Mother Teresa-2