Trust Yourself


Fifth in a five-part series

Chaim Potok, the distinguished Jewish novelist, tells how he knew he wanted to be a writer when he was very young. But his mother said, “Chaim, be a brain surgeon. You’ll save a lot of people from dying, and you’ll make a better living.” So he grew up and went to college intending to be a writer. When he came home on break his mother took him aside and said, “Chaim, I know you want to be a writer, but think about it. Be a brain surgeon. You’ll save a lot of people from dying, and you’ll make more money.” And Chaim, said, “But I want to be a writer.”

This conversation continued throughout his college days until at the end, when his vision persisted, his mother took him aside in desperation and said, “Chaim, don’t waste your life. Be a brain surgeon, you’ll save a lot of people from dying and you’ll make a better living.”

Finally he exploded, “Mama, I don’t want to keep people from dying. I want to show them how to live. I want to be a writer!”

I have a hunch that most of the people who come to see me about some issue in their lives already know the answer. They just can’t trust themselves. The man who hates his job but can’t seem to leave it, the woman who knows something isn’t right with her marriage but can’t shake the idea that it might just be all in her imagination. I often tell people, Trust yourself. Trust your sense of what’s really happening. Trust your feelings, your mind. The Chaim Potok story is arresting because the inner authority of the young man is so powerful, so beautiful–knowing Potok’s novels and what would be lost to the world if he had doubted his own vocation.

“But when you pray go to your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Imbedded in these words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we have been turning over and over this Lent, deeply embedded is a sense of inner trust. Jesus drives us into solitude, away from all the people whose approval we crave, so that we can escape the manic cycle of ups and downs that inevitably whipsaw our lives when we look outward for identity and approbation. Jesus knows two things. When we “shut the door” we will come to know who we really are, and in that moment glimpse the light of the divine presence. It happened just this way for him. Immediately after his baptism Jesus went into the wilderness and “shut the door” for forty days. When he finally opened the door and came out he said, “I and the father are one.” Nothing and no one could stop him from his divine vocation.

The world is full of Mrs. Potoks. That is why we must spend time each day “in secret.”


Part 1 The Big Secret
Part 2 The Secret Reward
Part 3 Secret Saints
Part 4 Secret Prayer

The Secret Prayer

  Fourth in a five-part series As a young boy I remember going to “Prayer Meeting” on Wednesday nights at the Baptist Church. We sat in the pews, we sang hymns, the pastor preached a sermon–it was just like Sunday morning, except that we took some prayer requests and the preacher offered a longer “pastoral…

Secret Saints

Part three in a five part series. This Lent we’re turning over and over those classic words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-21), where Jesus warns us away from public shows of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. It must all be done, he insists, “in secret.” Jesus really hates pompous worship. That’s the lowdown…

The Secret Reward

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The Big Secret

First in a Lenten Series How did I miss this? I’ve been reading this Ash Wednesday gospel for decades. Same every year. Matthew 6. Sermon on the Mount. Yet when I heard it this year, I was struck by what seemed the most obvious, pressing, urgent message of Jesus’ address. It’s the word secret. I…