Jesus said to “take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” (Matt 6:1).
Now, I tend to be a self-conscious person to begin with. But lately I’ve found myself 2nd guessing devotions that are spiritually effective to me that happen to have an external expression. For example, I’ll show up to mass in the mornings 30 minutes early so I recite the Office of Readings. I do this kneeling silently, but while slowly mouthing the words so I can “chew” them in a Lectio Divina sort of way. I know in my heart that I’m doing them with sincerity, and not for “show”, but I also can’t not be preoccupied with the thought that other people will see me doing them and consider me to have a “holier-than-thou” attitude.
Does anyone else have this problem and how do you suggest I go about fixing it? I want to be comfortable worshiping God in whatever form it happens to take and not worry about what people think, but my over-concern with NOT being seen seems to be hurting my devotions rather than helping them
There’s nothing overly pious about being seen praying in Church for a half-hour or an hour - the ‘Holy Hour’ of prayer is a time-honoured custom. Churches are places specially set aside for prayer and worship, so where better? Not to mention Our Lord’s words to the apostles in Gethsemane - ‘could you not stay with me even an hour’?
So rest assured no-one is going to bat an eyelid. The only people who would even notice would be those who were ALSO there - and also for half an hour or more. These people, would either be also praying - and not think any the less of you for doing the same - or working (rehearsing musicians or whatever) and too busy with their own work to worry about you.
If you were kneeling in the middle of the road to pray, or were there for five hours a day or something, that might be a different matter … unless you were a contemplative religious or something.
Jesus ALSO said something else … Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before all men, in order that they may see your holy lives and may give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” So it’s not invariably a bad thing for people to see you praying.
Well, I should probably add that I am aware that for the most part other people couldn’t care less, yet for some reason I’m becoming more and more distracted from my devotions because of an irrational preoccupation with other’s perceptions of me while I’m praying, etc…
Me being the type of person I am - I’d be tempted to ramp it up a notch - start doing somethign even more embarrassing like praying LOUD - just to prove that no-one seriously bats an eyelid and how pointless my previous fears really were.
But hey, that’s just me.
Tell me, what if all your fears were true? What if everyone who saw you actually thought you were insufferably holier-than-thou? Why does it matter what others think? Didn’t Our Lord say ‘happy are you when you have all sorts of evil spoken against you for My name’s sake. Rejoice and be glad … for so they persecuted the prophets who came before you’?
Don’t be scared of people thinking less of you - did you know St Bernadette suffered the same thing, and is actually invoked as a patron saint of people ridiculed for their piety?
Our Lady asked her to ‘wash in the spring’ at Lourdes (or something) … well, there wasn’t actually a spring there yet, so she basically got a faceful of mud - boy did everyone laugh at her until later the miraculous healing water started flowing where she’d dug into the ground. Ask for her help to overcome your fears.
We’re all self-conscious. I believe this is part of our fallen nature because in it we’re not really concerned about the truth, but rather by how things appear-which really has to do with pride, even if what we’re afraid others are thinking may, in fact, be what they’re thinking. I’ve suffered from this for years but have made much progress by praying a lot for the courage to be focused only on the truth, not myself or what others think.
Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Sam 16:7
St. Augustine explained this in one of his works( I can’t remember the work) by pointing out that we tend to neglect the conditional part of the sentence: “… in order that people may see them…” This goes much deeper into the** motive** of your doing the things you do. Do you pray in public only to be noticed and thought of as holy? If it isn’t your intention then don’t worry about other people. Sometimes the devil also plants this “false humility” in our heads. Remember Jesus also said: “Let your light shine so that others would know you are sons of your heavenly Father.”