And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you. -- Matthew 6:5-6I think I've been hearing that quote, and been bothered by it, on Ash Wednesday about as long as I can remember. The gospel says to pray in secret, to not make a public spectacle of yourself ... and then we mark our heads with ashes as an outward sign of our devotion ...
Wait ... say what? Back that truck up and run it over me again!
That makes zero sense. The explanation is simple ... it's a matter of perspective. If you're leaving the ashes on your forehead to show everyone that it matters to you, you're doing it wrong. If you're doing it to remind yourself, that's OK. But I also think that maybe that's too simplistic. Couldn't the same be said of the people who pray in public? I hate to admit it, but there are times in my life where praying in church is the only praying I get to. Does that make me a hypocrite? a fool? What about those who rend their garments? I won't say it's happened often, but there have been times I've been so hurt I've torn my clothes out of sheer frustration. It had nothing to do with the people around me; it had to do with my inner turmoil. Isn't it all, on some level, an outward sign of our inner pain?
Yet, to say I don't get it would be wrong, too. We all know the hypocrites that this verse is superficially talking about. Genesis talks about them in the song Jesus He Knows Me. And obviously these are the ones being talked about in the verse. But are they the only ones?
And ... I’ve come full circle to the matter of perspective, haven't I? Over the years I’ve come to find my own balance. I go to evening services, and my closest friends and family are the only ones who see me with ashes. By the time I get up in the morning, they’re no longer visible, and nobody that sees me today knows. It’s private. And yet, I feel I’m confessing something when I say I do it this way on purpose. I feel like I’m cheating the system. I feel like I’m only a small step above the little kids who are embarrassed by their ashes and wipe them off so nobody sees. I wish I had better perspective myself, because I need it. I need it so I can share it.
I need it because this post isn’t about me. Topher dropped a bomb on me Monday night. He shared with me some of his less public manifestations of his inner turmoil. I’ve promised not to spill his secret in my blog, but I will say it’s shaken me. I’m searching for perspective and balance so I can filter it down through to him. I’m glad he’s sharing, and I’m glad he’s feeling good enough about his life now that he’s given it up for lent, and hopefully for life. We have begun the healing together.
But someone should have warned me how much it was going to hurt. How much of my own turmoil would come out. It's different than raising your own kids. With your own kids, you have a much better defined relationship by the time they're old enough to talk, let alone by the time they are old enough to manifest inner pain by any way other than screaming. But that doesn't exist with a foster kid, and some days it cuts to the core.
Hope you didn’t click the link looking for answers … I don’t have any today. Answers aren’t necessary for survival, questions are.
And I got lots of those!