Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Spirituality of Feeling Appreciated

I have devotional guides and prayer books that I like to read as the week moves along. If the week is busy or distracting, I miss some days, but either I catch up or just begin reading with that day’s thoughts. Often, these guides and books give me ideas for writing posts for this blog.

As I was reading this evening, I felt glum rather than uplifted. In many devotions, the writer wanted to be more Christ-like, then went through a period of trouble and realized that he or she had been prideful. Other writers had learned some lesson where some personal fault had been revealed to them, and that God knew best.

The truth is, there are times when I need just the opposite---times when I feel blue and undervalued and I need to know I’m a good person who has done a good job. During such times, I don’t need another doggone lesson about humility. I don’t want to be shamed into expressing gratitude for the providential correction of my faults, nor to be reminded that we don’t serve God in order to be affirmed.

Instead, I need a sign that God is proud of me. I need a pat on the back from other people. We all have areas of disappointment and pain in our lives, situations in which we wish we had been treated better. Maybe you're experiencing that kind of situation right now. Sometimes these kinds of things weigh heavily in our hearts, and what would give us the best spiritual boost is timely, positive acknowledgment.

I must quickly say: I’m grateful for all the recognition, success, and praise that I’ve received in my life. I’m not at all lacking in these things; far from it. I thank God for my many friends and wonderful family, all the people in my life with whom I give and receive love, value and affirmation. I’m grateful for feedback that I’ve difference in people’s lives.

But do you ever feel sad like this---low on morale---regardless of how much you try to put it into perspective? Instead of such an emphasis on humility and brokenness, I think we need a balancing spirituality---of feeling loved and appreciated and proud of the good we’ve done in our lives, a spirituality where we admit and declare our need to be affirmed and valued.

(That’s one reason I try to be generous with my praise to people and to think of folks I may have overlooked. I remember one time when I saw a colleague at a conference, praised her for an event she had organized, and I was surprised when she started to cry. Apparently she'd gotten a demoralizing amount of criticism.)

I have a feeling that lots of people will admit to the same thing. We talk a good line about humility and selfless service but we secretly long for praise and affirmation. We live in a time, for instance, when so many people are kicked to the curb in spite of loyal service (perhaps with a spiritual sense of calling) to their work. I was heartened to read something about Henri Nouwen recently, how he struggled sometimes with these same kinds of sad feelings and insecurities and need for love. We aren’t alone in our need for positive acknowledgment; we just need to figure out how best to support one another in this way.

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