Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ego vs. the Holy Spirit

I can't seem to figure this one out. It is sticking in my head this week. I've asked any number of people: DH, friends, Pastor, God, my mother. How do you tell the difference between your ego and promptings from the Holy Spirit?
Yesterday, a lot of what was going on inside me came out. I gave a talk at my parish's 6th Women's Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat. It was my third retreat in a row giving a talk, and it's something that I enjoy a lot. I grow a great deal in the process of meditating and praying about a topic, and then writing and editing my talk. And I love giving the talks. It always begins with the entire room standing and singing a blessing song over the speaker. I love that feeling; it is deeply Spirit-filled.

Anyway, as awkward and shy as I can be at any given, off-the-cuff moment, I am totally different when giving the talks. I am calm. I am confident. I usually have the talk mostly memorized, so I make frequent eye contact, and often add in extemporaneous comments to spark some humor and laughter. I try to entertain, not just share my story.

I have a talent for this. I don't say that lightly, and not in a bragging way. I mean it matter-of-factly... this is an area in which I have a talent. And I guess others have noticed, since I was invited to fill empty slots at the past two retreats. The team from this weekend's talk had to do a bit of arm-twisting to get me to agree.

But when I was driving home last night, I started thinking more about how good it feels to get the affirmations from the women after my talks. How good it feels to hear that my words touched someone. How good it feels to see the crowd reacting with laughter and tears at the appropriate moments. And I started to wonder if I was doing this for the right reasons. Am I agreeing to talk at these retreats because I really have something important to share... some information that can lead others closer to Christ? Or am I speaking because I like the affirmation? Because I like the ego boost?

Or is it a little of both?

And if it is a little of both... is that ok?

This morning, Pastor gave a homily about the servant who hid the one talent, trying to be practical and "safe." He told us that he understands this desire for security, especially in this current economic crisis. But Jesus told this parable to exhort us against choosing security over risk. Pastor said that Jesus wants us to use our talents, to take risks, to be bold, to speak truthfully and honestly and openly.

I nodded a lot during his homily. I kept thinking back to the previous afternoon. I was quite bold, very truthful, and more honest than I had ever been in a public speech before. OK. That was God's work.

But I will admit: there was an element of "showing off." One of the women on the retreat had never heard me speak before, and she and I are competitive with each other. She is also a writer, and she seems to make a point of drawing attention to her writing successes while diminishing any positive feedback I might get with an "oh, yeah, I've been told that, too. It's very satisfying, isn't it?" So, I admit, I was aiming to knock this one out of the park.

Which brings me back to the ego question; clearly my ego played some role in my talk yesterday. Does that even matter? Is it possible to completely separate my ego from my faith story? The women on the retreat did not know about this underlying, unspoken competition. If one of them was touched by my words and grows deeper in relationship with Christ as a result of meditating on them, does that mitigate the egotism involved in creating and giving the talk? Or is the power of my talk lessened by the competition and ego that underlay it all?

How can you tell the difference between ego and the Holy Spirit?

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