Sincerity, as we learned last week, is a vital nutrient to our spiritual diets. We thrive as humans when we act authentically toward others, and also when we receive authenticity from others.
There was also a pretty stern warning that NOT showing sincerity can lead to dire consequences.
How do we know we are being sincere?
Simply saying, "Oh, I am!" is not enough. Human nature is much more complicated than that. If everyone in a room were asked if they believe they are generally sincere, most, if not all, would say "Yes!" and “sincerely” believe it. But since The Mission of Saint Thorlak is a contemplative ministry, it is our duty to slow down and really examine that, to make sure it is... well... sincere.
We're only going to focus on ourselves. Be aware this week of every interaction you have with another person. Everyone. People you live with, people you work with, people you encounter in your day to day business. People you know, people you don't know. People you text. People who read what you post. People on the other end of the phone.
First, repeat enough times what "sincere" means: whole, pure, unmixed; that which is not falsified.
Next, apply that to your SELF. Imagine what it looks and sounds like when you present yourself just as you are: whole, pure, unmixed; not falsified.
Whole: All of you. Not just part of you. Nothing to hide. Even the sides of you that are weak, or timid, or embarrassing. Even the parts of you that you don't like. Even those areas you vow nobody will ever know. Interiorly, be aware of your whole self when you interact with others this week.
! Now, hold on just a moment: We are not suggesting that you advertise all of your deep, dark secrets. There are very good reasons we don't talk about our most sacred and intimate thoughts, feelings and memories. You can be aware of them, however, without spotlighting them. Just imagine yourself as an integrated whole, with all of your aspects visible to your interior sight. (If people don't know about your hidden aspects, they won't know to ask about them, right?) So, don't worry that you have to be completely inside out. Just be aware of yourself as the total of who you are.
Pure: Keep your intentions good and simple. No corrupt motives or agendas packaged as sweetness. No making any moves to gain on anyone or put anyone beneath you. This is sincerity, not strategy.
Unmixed: Keep your focus and your motives unmuddied. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and be direct. Try not to be purposefully vague, coy or ambiguous.
Not falsified: We hope this is obvious. Be truthful. Honest. Upfront. Humble. Don’t duck who you are. Don’t put on a face that isn’t yours. Don’t mislead. Don’t agree with things unless you agree with them.
This description already sounds like one you'd hope for in a best friend. It feels like a stream of oxygen in an environment of variable smog. Wouldn't we all like a friend like this?
Good. Now, as often as you can, be aware of your interactions, and see how they match up to this close study of sincerity.
Do not despair if you fall short.
We all do.
There is no one person among us who can maintain perfect sincerity all the time. A few of us might do a great job out in public but then switch faces at home, like when we duck those responsibilities we don’t enjoy. Others might look at the cashier or teacher or bus driver and think we don't have anything to lose because that person doesn't know us anyway, so we can portray ourselves any way we please. Or, there is that friend on the phone who loves to talk. "I'll talk to you later, I've got to go..."
Ugh. It's hard.
It's hard for EVERYONE. It's even harder when you're a person with autism because you have probably been taught from a very early age that you have to follow the rules of social situations, and just having to constantly rehearse and recall them makes you feel like you're an actor following a script. Is it sincerity when you are doing what other people have told you to do, especially when you'd rather not be talking to the other person at all?
If you [sincerely] want to grow, it’s okay to not like when it gets difficult, so long as your effort is sincere. So, yes, it is.
Then there are complications of nuances. It's very poor taste, for example, to brush someone aside by stating "I can't stand talking to you," even if that would be sincere. Sincerity does not excuse the need for discretion, manners and consideration of the other’s feelings.
What, then, can we do, if we find we’re not always sincere?
Go back to our contemplation, and look interiorly.
Contemplate your humanity.
Contemplate that other person's humanity.
You don't have to know the other person, you don't have to enjoy the situation, and you don't have to be anyone else than who you are right now. Sincerity does not even have to be spoken. It can just as easily be felt, thought, recollected as you act. Recall your humanity and think of what you need in that moment.
Simple as that.
Well… not really. Does it still seem complicated? Thought so. Okay. Let’s try one more time, and this is what we want to leave with you for this week. Does this explain sincerity? Here goes:
Sincerity, simplified (and a preview of next week’s thought): DON’T FEAR YOUR NEED.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak