Fear seeks safety. Love seeks Truth. Please read and enjoy. Productive, truthful feedback welcome.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Ineffective Prisoners

Part 5 of a 5 part series on serenity.

Fill your bowl to the brim
And it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
And it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
And your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
And you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back
The only path to serenity.

~ From Tao Te Ching as translated by Stephen Mitchell

This week let’s explore the fourth line together:
Care about people’s approval, and you will be their prisoner.

Sometimes we worry what others are thinking about us.

“We would worry less about what others thought of us if we realized how
seldom they do.” (Ethel Barrett)

And sometimes we worry about what others are doing. Or not doing.

"As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

"Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NIV)

Martha, instead of joyfully going about the preparations or possibly foregoing them altogether, missed both chances at serenity. Had she lovingly made the necessary preparations Martha could have presented Jesus her gift from a heart full of joy.

Let’s picture what that might have looked like were Martha to have chosen joy.
You can almost hear her singing as she sets the table, readies the meal, and perhaps even pours a goblet of wine for her guest as she sits down to join her sister.
That is serenity.

But what do we get instead?
Instead, we might picture her banging the silverware drawer shut, slamming the pots on the stove, and perhaps quaffing her own two fingers of whiskey before storming into the sitting room and interrupting the very one she is 'serving', to, with righteous indignation of course, call out her 'ungrateful' sister.
Serenity? Not so much.

When we find ourselves in either of these modes—caring what others think about us or thinking others need to meet our self-imposed expectations—we diminish our present effectiveness. We don’t do ourselves as well as we could because we are too busy doing others. In effect, we have volunteered to be their prisoners.

Care about people’s approval, and you will be their prisoner.

Do YOUR work (not theirs), then step back. The only path to serenity.

Thank you for reading.

CHECK OUT The Bottom Turtle ~For musings from Dave on how to Love More and Judge Less link to his new book.


  1. This is a powerful message and a perfect example. Father Anthony de Mello talks about this in his book and in the one lecture he ever recorded. He speaks to how we undertake many seemingly charitable acts not out of selflessness, nor even because we want to feel good about the effort. Instead, many of us we’ve others or do work to avoid the negative feeling that may come from NOT doing it. Martha did the work because she thought it was expected of her, or because she wanted to show off her skills—but she didn’t do it In a spirit of service for the sake of the service itself. If she had, as you point out so perfectly, whether Mary helped or not would make no difference. When I do things because it feels right and good to do them, I need no other affirmation. If others see and recognize that effort that’s great, but it’s not really any of my business.
    Though I do think this is a difficult idea to fully grasp. I certainly don’t always find the joy. But I do seek it. I ask myself why am I acting. Who or what am I serving? If the answer isn’t clear or it is clear and it’s to avoid feeling bad about NOT doing it, then I think twice (or three times).
    I love this series, Dave. Thank you for your wise words.

    1. Intent and affirmation seem to live on a balance with each other. The more altruistic the intent, the less external affirmation sought. Thank you for your thoughts. They highlight the meaning of the post and serve to make it richer.