I've never claimed to be much of a cook, especially in comparison with some of the superb chefs in my community. But I do have a go with some simple dishes for myself. With the shortage of vocations I couldn't risk cooking for my community and poisoning the lot of them! Nor would they be prepared to take that chance.
Occasionally I cook a simple omelette for myself. Though I was pleased enough, I didn't consider one of my efforts a work of genius. Once cooked, I started to ease it from the frying pan onto a plate. So far so good. But then I was completely thrown off balance. One of the Cordon Bleu chefs in our community happened to pass by and see my omelette. To my amazement he congratulated me! I wasn't used to such praise for my culinary excursions -especially from him.
Such unexpected acclaim from such a discerning cook caught me completely off guard. In my confusion I grabbed a bottle of washing up liquid and squirted it into the frying pan. Unfortunately I hadn't yet removed the omelette!
What to do? I certainly wasn't going to throw away such a highly praised and, therefore, prized dish. Anyway you have probably heard of my great reluctance to throw away anything. I will go to great lengths to salvage what others would throw away -even a soapy omelette. But not me! So I did the most obvious thing -stuck the omelette under the tap to remove the washing up liquid. Then I re-heated my 'dish of the day' and, surprisingly enjoyed a tasty meal True, it did have an unusual, distinctive flavour. But none the worse for that -nor was I. And I didn't foam at the mouth or blow bubbles!
Of course my community thought I was completely mad. Possibly they had a point. But I would argue that great discoveries have been made -even in the kitchen -by accidentally throwing together unlikely ingredients. That's my defense and I'm sticking to it -with the warning not to try combining washing up liquid with omelettes or any other food. Your digestive system may not be as tough as mine.
How on earth can I find a way of meeting God in the crazy way I reacted to unexpected praise? As I see it, my problem lies in the way I coped with praise. If I'd been sensible -which I wasn't -I would have expressed my gratitude for a bit of friendly encouragement. Hopefully that would lead me to be even more ambitious with my cooking. That could even have given me the confidence to offer to cook for the whole community. Whether or not they would have accepted is another matter. If I'd welcomed praise graciously I might have blossomed as a chef. There's no knowing what heights I might have attained!
My eldest brother has the best approach to commenting on my efforts -not in cooking, but in water colour painting. He's a highly gifted artist, while I'm very much an also-ran. When we went out painting he would look at my mediocre efforts -that's the truth, not false humility. He would then ask me if I wanted to know what he really thought. Hesitantly I would say, "Yeeers." First he would find something good to say about my picture. Then he would show me how it could be improved. Hopefully I've listened to his advice. Encouragement, then suggested improvements. That's what I needed. And that's what he gave me. The same is true when Peter and I work together on our blog postings.
Giving and receiving praise is difficult. Empty flattery is insincere and useless. That would never spur me on to improve. I need the teacher's classic report comment, "could do better" -and be shown how. But totally devastating criticism can be worse than useless. It can dampen down, if not extinguish, the flame of enthusiasm, the self confidence to try again.
The virtue of humility doesn't mean refusing to accept praise and denying that we've done something well -when we've produced a little gem of modest worth. It would have been a lie to have insisted that I had cooked a bad omelette. And to do so would have been ungracious to the person who had been kind enough to praise my efforts. That would have meant denying the truth and making a virtue out of lying. That can't be right! And it wouldn't have been conceited for me to have drawn quiet satisfaction from doing something well -like cooking a tasty omelette. That again is a matter of truth.
Perhaps the best and most honest way for me to handle praise is for me to thank God for making whatever I achieve possible -even cooking a decent omelette. So my way of meeting God is for me to recognize any success I may have, while echoing the words of the Psalmist,
"Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give glory," (Ps. 115. 1).
At the same time I must heed His instructions. With His help I certainly could do better.
In a fortnight Peter's 'Meeting God' reflection will be entitled, 'Out of Jurassic Park'