This is probably better suited as a journal entry but I felt compelled to share it. I think my own battles with insecurity and craving for praise is not unique to me. This journal entry was a little conversation I had with myself as I reflected on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6: 1-4.
6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Aaron, It’s not like wanting recognition is bad, in fact, it is deeply human and unavoidable. After all, it’s not just you who wants to be seen and appreciated. Isn’t that one of humanities deepest cravings? The problem is not wanting to be seen, it’s when you fail to recognize you are seen fully every movement of every day by God.
That craving you have for praise and recognition slips into pride when you seek that praise from other people. Recognition and praise between humans can’t help but be comparative, a status thing. When you want others to tell you that you did well, it’s always viewed on a scale of you compared to others. The only time it isn’t is when the complement is filtered through the all-seeing and all loving eyes of God. Humility is a sober recognition of all of reality; my strengths compared to God’s, my weaknesses compared to God’s love, and my value apart from what I do and solely based on who God says I am. Humility is not as thought out as that because when my heart is rightly focused I simply forget myself completely. It’s futile to constantly compare myself to God so I either run from him or embrace His nonsensical love for me.
Aaron, your failure is not your craving for praise. It’s the fact that you neglect your personal (yes personal) relationship with your good Father. He sees you! He knows when you have done well and he gives you affirmation. He also knows when you have not truly done well and loves you anyway. Your obsession with other people’s praise is more of an indictment on whether you believe a personal relationship with God is possible and real. You do not invest in that living relationship in such a way that His affirmation of you can penetrate your need for it.
Aaron, look at what Jesus is actually teaching in the verses above. Reward based righteousness is not condemned, he is simply asking you to remember God rather than others when seeking a reward. Why the word reward? Is he talking about a prize or trophy? It’s probably the same reward I am seeking by doing my deeds before people. It might be a prize but it’s more likely just the kudos that I’m after. Those kudos are what God gives you. This passage is a deeply relational text.
Human recognition (reward) is never fully satisfying anyway, is it? If human praise is always on a scale of comparison between you and others, it can’t satisfy. There will always be someone above you. Like the text says, “they have received their reward.” When I seek human recognition I may get it but it’s never satisfying. When I do good things in the presence of my all seeing and good Father it is truly satisfying. It can’t be tainted with untruthful exaggeration or pride because he sees all. He also knows how hard it was to do the right thing even if it was a small act of righteousness. No human could see that depth of an act of goodness.
So today Aaron, don’t forget your father sees you. He appreciates who you are because he made you. He sees the struggles you have to do what is right and he celebrates your successes and comforts you when you fail. No need to seek recognition from anyone else, it’s too exhausting anyway. Just spend your energy in a living duologue with God today. Receive his Kudos when you do what is right and accept his loving instruction when you do what is wrong. Remember he sees your secrets and He praises you for the good, forgives you for the bad, and is working to transform the ugly into something beautiful.