One of the best known passages of the Sermon on the Mount is this from Matthew 5:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.“
I have a love-hate relationship with my fitness tracker/GPS watch. Getting data about pace, heart rate, steps, and calories burned can be helpful. But if I’m running along a fire road by the James while the sun is rising, maybe I should pay attention to that and not my pace and heart rate. In my best races I’ve been in a state of flow, of self-forgetfulness where my effort feels like joy and not work and I rarely look at my watch.
Feedback is important in our lives of discipleship. We can be unaware of our own anger or apathy. But discipleship is not primarily about self-awareness. It is about forgetting ourselves as we share more fully in God’s mission. A lamp isn’t aware of the the light it shines, and salt isn’t aware of its own savoriness.
One of the challenges to discipleship is that we’re not aware of our effectiveness. In this passage Jesus says our neighbors see our good works and give glory not to us, but to God. God and our neighbors see the good we do but we do not. We are unaware.
I remarried just before my son turned 16. I did everything I could to honor my relationship with him as I pursued my personal life. He did not take the news well. He decided not to share a home with me. His junior year of high school felt like a long series of unreturned texts and scheduling challenges as I did all I could to stay connected to him. And while he wasn’t happy with my decision I also knew there was something else going on that he didn’t know how to name. I knew guilting him into spending more time with me wouldn’t make things any better. So I kept putting myself out there, no appeals to authority or guilt or consequences. When he had an epiphany his senior year about what was going on with him I was the first person he told, and we’ve grown closer since. For so long it felt like the way of patient love was a sucker’s bet, and the uncertainty was almost unbearable. But even in all this unknowing I knew it was the right way, even though it was incredibly difficult and there was no guarantee things would work out.
Are we willing to become self-forgetful in our lives of discipleship? Will we persevere in doing what is right when their is no obvious reward? As hard as this path is, it is the one that allows our light to shine, even if we don’t always see our own light.