Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Invisible rewards

Cross-posted at the Confirm not Conform website.

One of the things that I think all of us hope for when we prepare people for confirmation is that they have a rewarding experience. I was thinking of this today, hearing the familiar Ash Wednesday reading from the Sermon on the Mount: "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven." And then Jesus goes on to list all the ways that going through the motions--of almsgiving, of prayer, of fasting--are not the reward we are after. The reward that really counts is what "your Father who sees in secret" sees.

To me that suggests the mysterious process of what goes on inside is of far more value than the things we see people do--a process that may not even be perceived by the people going through them, much less those of us watching.

I found this a little depressing. I know I get so much out of it when I see someone get it, when I see the excitement or joy or insight. But I realized today that to try to force those things is to satisfy my needs and desires, that I may be looking for the reaction in order to receive my reward. When we watch youth or adults with an eye to making sure they exhibit the transformation we hope they experience, are we leading them into the temptation to give alms ostentatiously, or pray long and loud, or fast dismally? Do we need to let it go, understanding we may never see the reward?

The truth is, I may never know if someone finds a class or a sermon or a retreat rewarding in the long run. I may never know if Confirmation meant anything to them. Though I want people to be inspired, I may only see someone blase, bored, and disengaged. And when I think I've offered something awesome, that gets frustrating. But people don't owe me their life-changing experiences; no one needs to make me feel better about myself by saying how Confirm not Conform (for example) was the Best Thing Ever. I need to remember that I too depend upon God for my reward, and that the reward that lasts doesn't consist in the number of people who Like What I Do.

God, help me to seek my reward only from you, and not from the behavior or approval of others. May my reward be to love and serve you and those you love, now and always. Amen.

And a blessed Lent to one and all.

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