We often associate the word reverence with religion. We even affix the “reverend” modifier to the titles of our religious leaders. But reverence is not an inherently religious matter. Being reverent is mostly about attitude. The reverent person experiences a sentiment akin to “awe.” They see the magnificence, wonder, or extraordinary value in something. And, therefore, they hold it in high regard.
Just having reverence for certain important things can positively affect us. Reverence often inspires us. And it should always humble us. A reverent attitude can make us want to understand things more deeply. And, it can make us want to care more. Reverent hearts feel a duty to preserve and protect the things in life worth cherishing.
The author Paul Woodruff argues that reverent souls embrace three sentiments at once. And they’re are crucial to character. Respect, awe, and a potential sense of shame (not toxic but healthy shame) combine in the reverent person. And the healthy shame is only experienced when the valuable things in life aren’t held in high enough regard. It can also be experienced for not adequately recognizing and accepting our shortcomings and limitations.
Reverence has more to do with how we relate than the religion we profess. The reverent soul ultimately seeks to elevate humanity. She or he works to preserve what’s good and strives to make better what needs improving. That always starts at the personal level. So, reverence is ultimately about becoming a better person. And that leads to feeling more united to others and striving to make the whole world better.
Reverence and Character
Having worked with disturbed characters for many years, I’ve seen how their irreverent attitudes wreaked havoc. Sadly, we live in a largely irreverent age – a “throwaway” society. Everything is disposable. But some things are worth preserving and revering. And learning to revere these things profoundly impacts character development.
We do well, for example, to have reverence for our planet, which sustains all life. All of us are paying an ever increasing price for our lack of regard for this precious gift. We also do well to revere the miracle of life itself and to do our best to cherish and preserve it. Most of our social ills derive from our lack of regard for one another. This stems from our lack of reverence for life in general. But when it comes to forging a healthy, decent character, perhaps nothing matters as much as a deep reverence for the truth.
The irreverence disturbed characters have for the truth has caused many a problem. Some characters regard the truth only as a barrier. Sometimes it stands in the way of what they want. Other times, it may be an obstacle to something they need to believe. Disturbed characters notoriously play fast and loose with the truth. Some blatantly and habitually lie and deceive. Some even come to believe their own fictions. A proper sense of awe and respect for the truth would go a long way toward putting them on a different path. Truth not only has the power to heal but also to set a person free. Embrace it, and reckon with it faithfully, and life is no longer a shipwreck.
The Power of Truth
The eminent Carl Rogers suggested good therapists need to have “unconditional positive regard” for their clients. The more I have reflected on this, the more I think he was really advocating reverence. I’m in awe every day of this miracle we call existence. And this awe has always provided the inspiration help heal the wounded, and to the best of my ability, to avoid doing harm.
Sometimes, the healing process calls for confrontation. With disturbed characters, that means confronting negative attitudes and destructive behaviors. But confronting the truth is only half the battle. You have to confront it in a way that’s “palatable” enough for a client to even consider what you’ve put before them. And, of course, they have to be of a frame of mind to accept it. You see, it’s not enough just to be willing to admit the truth. That’s the relatively easy part, especially when someone has been caught red-handed doing wrong. What matters more is the person’s willingness to actively embrace the truth and then humbly learn from it. And that willingness, of course, requires reverence.
(See also: Revering Truth: Character’s 4th Command.)
I’ll have much more to say on this topic in the coming weeks.
As always, my sincere thanks for recommending my books and this blog to others.
Character Matters may feature a rebroadcast of an earlier program. If we’re live, I’ll announce it at the beginning of the program Sunday at 7pm Eastern.