When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical word. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated.
–The Way of the Heart by Henri J.M. Nouwen (page 11)
As I think we all do, I thought of several other people when I first read this. Then as I started typing it out it hit me. This quote describes me, especially the first condition. I am a confessed people pleaser. Everything is about me and I think of myself too much. So, even though I want feedback to do things better, I can’t seem to eliminate the initial reaction of anger when that feedback is negative in any way.
Today’s section of the book is entitled “The Compulsive Minister”. Nouwen writes to ministers and warns of the dangers of being driven by the opinions of the people who are being ministered to. Ministers want affirmation from the people they minister to. In some ways they need it, because their livelihood depends on people being willing to employ them. What a strange church culture we’ve created. We want someone to speak God’s word to us and then we make making us happy a condition of their employment. This is natural, because I don’t think we’re any different. We live in community and to some extent we are all affected by the expectations of that community. For our own spiritual health we need to be encouraging those who minister to us to be listening to God as much as possible. I hope our desire is for spiritual leaders who will speak God’s word to us rather than simply parroting back to us what they think we want to hear.
Nouwen argues, based on the experience of the desert fathers, that these expectations typically do not lead us in the way God would have us to go. There does seem to be a choice, following the community or crowd, or following Jesus. In my experience, they are rarely the same thing. So, how do I hear Jesus’ voice when I am bombarded by input from people and media? I think this was the original purpose behind the concept of a quiet time. Most of us can’t retreat to the desert for any period of time. Many will find it difficult to find a few quiet moments, but we must try. This isn’t to fulfill some religious duty, but to genuinely spend a few moments seeking to hear God’s voice through the noise.
I find it interesting how God speaks when we really seek to listen. Our message at church on Sunday and a message we listened to yesterday on the way to the coast, both relate to this challenge. I would recommend both of them.