In my Senior Sem class at EMU, we have been reading Henri Nouwen's "Turn My Mouring Into Dancing". Nouwen, in the book, says,
"Many things we think we do for others are in fact the expressions of our drive to discover our identity in the praise of others."
We were asked to respond, then, to this question:
How has this been true or untrue in your life? How does Christian culture and drive to service affect this?
I will freely admit that I often thread the praise or lack thereof into the tapestry of my identity. Who does not enjoy a word that builds confidence in what the body or mind can accomplish? Who does not fall into doubt when praise is few and far between? We crave affirmation in what we can do.
In the Christian culture, I think there is a definite personal and corporate struggle of where to derive our value. Value can be accumulated by what we put our hands to – acts done by our own strength. Growing up in this Christian culture of expected service, I often did very “good” things for people through various church activities. In fact, I think this ingrained idea of “self-sacrifice” and service contributed a lot to the decision I made to pursue nursing. This decision in and of itself is not bad. But the motivations behind my actions in the nursing field (or just in general) can often be quite self-righteous and self-serving. I won’t lie; it feels quite good to be affirmed by patients or nursing staff or peers. But in the end, my own abilities to “help” will always fall short. I cannot bank my identity in others’ approval.
The second alternative for value has nothing to do with our physical capabilities. Instead, our value is discovered through the recognition of the “Potter’s” hands by which we were uniquely formed. In this frame of understanding, we are used instead of being in control - the vessels instead of the Potters. As Nouwen frames it, you are “free from the need to prove yourself and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it (p.73).”
Once, my Dad framed this idea in a way that was really helpful for me. I paraphrase his words:
God is sensitive to our hearts and our needs. The daily practice of being in His presence and working through my heart’s intentions and condition helps me to, in turn, be sensitive to His heart. (Equally present to God as He is to us). I also understand that God is sensitive not only to my needs, but also to those around me. So, by being sensitive to God, who is in touch with all people’s needs, I can be a vessel to meet those needs. And it’s not by my own ability then, that people’s needs are met… it’s by God’s working through me.
So, in conclusion, I am humbled to know that I’m not really all that altruistic most days. But it means I can recognize it and depend on God’s grace to shape my ever-self-focused tendencies. PTL.