We all need a good word every now and again, and this past week or so, I have been blessed with more than a few. Yesterday, I wrote a little about the grace of surrendering all glory to God with the simple thank you.
But that doesn't mean the ego-effect is lost on me. So the second question I think we have to deal with in receiving the praise of man - besides, "How exactly do we give the glory to God?" - is: how do you accept a kind word without getting a big head?
The answer is in answers.
We're all asking questions. Every day. Every second, for many of us. We're searching for answers to our hearts, our callings, our faith, our life, and whatever million other things those umbrellas don't cover. The question in the question is: to what are you giving the power to answer?
For the longest time, I (like many others) gave that power to the world. In those days, the praise of man meant a great deal. Every word was a bolster to my courage, a muscle to my strength. The words of others kept me going, kept me pushing, kept me pursuing. The words of others validated in some way what I thought I was doing or at least, trying to do. The opinions of others made me feel like I had a worthy offering for the world and that maybe there was something I was getting close to that would answer that gnawing question in my heart of just who I am. And in the grander sense, what I am and what I offer and whether or not that matters.
That's well and good when the praise is pouring in. (And oh, how I have been blessed by ego-feeders throughout my life.) But giving this power to the world means the answer changes based on my performance, audience perspective, and a complete lack of any type of guidelines that would truly define whether I am what I think I am and am being told that I am or whether I am not. Ten good words could be erased by one bad one. The words of others could devastate me. Quickly. They could force me to stop, to give up, to give in, to change course. The opinions of others made me feel like I would never have a worthy offering and would never matter. The words of others left me asking more questions that then had to be answered.
Who's going to answer?
There is Someone who will answer our questions. I know He answers mine. That's how you go about keeping you head small even in those situations where it might tend to get a little inflated. (Ok. A lot inflated. There have been times in my life, I'm sure, when I could have given a costumed mascot a run for its money in the head department. You, too?) You have to know who answers you.
The words of man don't answer me. God answers me. The words of man don't validate what I'm doing. God validates what I'm doing. The words of man don't inspire me to keep going. God inspires me to push on. The words of man don't make me worthy. God makes me worthy.
Then of what use are the words of man?
The words of man are encouragement and they are settlement. The words of man remind me to settle into this place called Answered. They allow me to know I am engaging with my world and that my world is responding, which puts me in precisely the place God has created me to be - in the midst of this without being the center of this. It helps me to know that I'm not alone, that I am indeed a part of something greater than myself, and to know that what I'm doing is not in vain. But lest I get vain, I'm reminded that in whatever I offer to the world, I don't put it out there in question form. Because I've been answered.
It doesn't make me above needing your kind words. Of course, I need them just as anyone around you does. It is encouragement to know that you're out there, and I cannot emphasize enough what the words of man mean to the very heart they're settling. I cry humbled tears when you tell me that this matters...because it's overwhelming. It's just completely...overwhelming. And reminds me why I do what I do - to be living in and working in and working with my God, who has remarkably, incredibly, unbelievably chosen to work something through me. When you praise me, I see Him working. And I'm humbled by that. So no, I am not above needing your kind words. They mean probably more to me today than even in my ego years. I take them with honor and try to receive them with grace.
But I am beyond living by them.