A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.” So the old man said, “Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.” The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, “Didn’t they say anything to you?” He replied, “No.” The old man said, “Go back tomorrow and praise them.” So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, “Apostles, saints, and righteous men.” He returned to the old man and said to him, “Did they not answer you?” The brother said, “No.” The old man said to him, “You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too, if you wish to be saved, must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved.”
Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 132.
The Abba’s wisdom reminds us that our ultimate identity is neither enhanced by another’s praise nor diminished by their insults. Until we know and trust that we are not determined by another’s evaluation of us we seek approval and reassurance that we are enough and we can never get enough of being told we are enough. Part of our spiritual work then is to detach from praises and insults, seeking our identity in God alone. Detachment does not mean we separate from others or ignore what they say; rather, it allows the freedom to be with others in an authentic way, one that allows for truth and sincerity. And when we can do that we have a new freedom to be with God.