The following passage is from the book, Manuel of the Warrior of Light, by Paulo Coelho:
A novice went to Abbot Macarius seeking advice about the best way to please the Lord.
“Go to the cemetery and insult the dead,” said Macarius.
The brother did as he was told. The following day, he returned to Macarius.
“Did they respond?” asked the abbot.
The novice said “no, they didn’t.”
“Then go back to them and praise them.”
The novice obeyed. That same afternoon, he returned to the abbot, who again wished to know whether the dead had responded.
“No,” said the novice.
“In order to please the Lord, behave as they do,” said Macarius. “Pay no heed to the insults of men, nor to their praise; in this way, you shall forge your own path.”
This is a good passage to think about as we begin the new year. It is packed with insight and wisdom. Even though you and I know that we should not allow other people’s insults to adversely affect us, we cannot help but to suffer when we are insulted by someone who we respect or care about. By the same token, we cannot help but to feel a sense of satisfaction and pride when we are complimented and praised.
I’ve written before about how we should view and handle insults and criticism. The articles where I’ve addressed this topic can be found under the “Criticism” category.
So how should we view and handle compliments and praise? What should we do in addition to saying “Thank You”? The answer to how we should respond can be found in St. Luke’s gospel where he described how the mother of God reacted when she was praised:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity forever.
And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home. (Luke 1:39-56)
So what did the mother of God do when her cousin Elizabeth praised her? She immediately praised God and gave Him credit for what He had done for her. By praising God, she disclaimed any credit that may have been due to her for being selected as the woman who would give birth to the Son of God.
So here’s my question for you: During 2014, how many times did you immediately, verbally praise God when someone complimented or praised you?
While we tend to be highly offended when we are insulted or criticized, we welcome, with open arms, any praise that comes our way. When we accept praise without immediately giving credit to God, we reject the virtue of humility and embrace pride.
Because of our fallen human nature, we naturally want to take credit for our gifts and talents. But we really don’t have a right to take credit. The majority of people would disagree with me on this. They would say that they have sacrificed and worked hard to develop their skills and talents, so they should be allowed to take credit for what they have been able to accomplish.
But where did the skills and talents that these people started with come from? And where did the drive and ambition to develop those skills and talents come from?
I’m not saying that we should launch into a long, drawn out statement about what God has done for us every time we receive a compliment, but at a minimum, we should immediately, mentally praise God for what he has done for us.
When someone says, “Hey Harry, I really got a lot out of last week’s article,” while I’m thanking the person for the compliment, I should silently say, Praise be to God, for He has done great things for me. Thank you Lord for giving me the ability to inspire and influence others through the written word.
A good way to remember to give credit to God when you receive praise from others is to include a question in the list that you review each day as a part of your daily examination of conscience. One question could be, “Do I praise and glorify God each time that I receive a compliment from another person?”
For more information and a starter list for a daily examination of conscience, please see Advice From a Mother of Four Young Children, an article that I published in October 2013.
Happy New Year!