I have always been very active as a volunteer. In fact since I began my professional life upon graduation from college in 1981 I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t part of some civic or charitable organization. But today I read something that gave me pause and it has caused me to reflect.
Today is Ash Wednesday. For Catholics it respresents the start of Lent. As sinners we use this time to perform acts of kindness for those less fortunate either through monetary donation or physical gestures, and we are supposed to pray and fast as well. While I was at mass this morning receiving my ashes I picked up a book that offered daily reflections for Lent. The first devotional quoted Matthew 6:1. “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.”
I have to confess those words hit me like a sledgehammer! Through thirty years of service had I in fact given my time and talent for the right reasons? When I took on these causes was I doing it because I believed in the mission, or was a part of me thinking what that work could mean for my professional advancement and social standing?
I do enjoy helping people and I derive satisfaction from those acts, but I also realized that I enjoyed being singled out and praised for that work. I took great pride in all of the honors I accumulated over the years and enjoyed the attention it brought me. The words I read this morning have made me think about issues that I had preferred not to deal with such as vanity, pride, ego, and pehaps even a lack of confidence.
Strangely enough I was arriving at those conclusions anyway, as I had been purposely trying to avoid high profile causes of late and instead have been trying to serve in a more intimate fashion. In fact one of my goals this year was to try and do at least one nice or helpful thing for somebody on a daily basis. Despite that those words I read this morning still hit home pretty hard.
I think as humans we can’t be faulted for enjoying recognition and I also think it gives others some satisfaction to acknowledge unselfish and giving behaviors in others. But if we do things with the hope we will be recognized then in my mind that would demean the quality of the effort.
It goes to show you that there is temptation even in the execution of good deeds, something I wasn’t as mindful of as I should have been. The good news is I have forty days to work on it.