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Student Life
Chapel Talks

Relational vs. Transactional

By The Rev. Leslie Chadwick, Lower School Chaplain

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

On Ash Wednesday, we heard this same passage from Matthew. One student brought it up at lunch the next day. He worried about Jesus saying not to pray in synagogues or public places. What would that mean for chapel? Especially today as we pray in the splendor of this fancy Cathedral! I pointed out that Jesus wasn’t worried so much about what people were doing as why they were doing it: “To be seen and praised by others.”

Lower School Food Drive

We all have mixed motives, and God can work with those. We brought in enough food to feed 20 large families because we wanted to help; and we also wanted that free dress day as a reward. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But Jesus cautions us about filling our relationships with busy transactions: I do homework and chores, you give me 2 hours of screen time. You give me likes on YouTube, I’ll follow you on Instagram. You make me look good, and I’ll say nice things about you. When we get in the habit of living that way, our relationships become superficial.

If someone only comes to you when they want something, you start to wonder if they love you for who you are. If you only get attention for good grades, you start to think that love is dependent on your performance. Worse, if we do things only to be seen or praised by others, we stay stuck in wanting to seem a certain way; we never actually get to BE ourselves. We are not nourishing our souls or our relationships. Our souls get stuck in shallow ground—without deep roots to soak up the riches of God’s grace.

God doesn’t want busy offerings like sacrifices or superficial face time. He’s not impressed with prayers that have a 250 word count. What he wants is a deep, true, and loving relationship with each of us. A relationship with the living God is not about doing a job and getting a pay check or turning in homework and getting an A. Those rewards are over as soon as you get them; the transaction closes out at the end of the quarter or school year, and you have to start all over again to receive a new reward. It is not about doing things to be seen and praised by others. That external motivation may work for a while, but you end up exhausted and shallow, with nothing substantial to show for your efforts in the end.

Jesus teaches his disciples practices that can help recondition them to different kinds of rewards—ones that will last. Not just a single dopamine hit when someone says, “Awesome job!” But an entire storehouse of riches, unfailing treasure that does not run out, an inexhaustible source of love, grace, and peace. When we are connected to God, we can serve and love others without feeling burned out. When we are not praised by others, we can remember that we are loved just as we are.

So how do we access such “treasures in heaven where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal?” The good news is these treasures aren’t just in the future after we die; they aren’t at the end of a long obstacle course marked with an X. They are accessible inside our hearts any time. We can find them when we go into our rooms and shut the door and pray. Or when we close our eyes and are truly still in any place—an airport, a classroom, or right here in the Cathedral. We can draw on the riches of God’s grace anytime we make room for God in our hearts.

The season of Lent is an invitation to quiet the busy transactions of our lives. To accept God’s invitation to be in deep relationship with him and others. And you, my younger friends, know better than many of us adults how to do that. You know that any good relationship starts with spending time together. Unrushed, unhurried, undistracted time with another person. Playing, hanging out, relaxing together, doing sports, or even just getting tucked into bed by a parent who is finally able to do just one thing instead of many at once.

I’ve heard some of you talk about practices you’ve considering taking on or giving up during these 40 days to be more relational instead of transactional. Some of you plan to set aside your phones to be present with your family. Others say it helps you remember God when you give up a certain food. One person plans to give up “negative self-talk.” That is a powerful choice, because being hard on ourselves or focusing on others’ bad opinions of us keeps us from hearing God’s voice, “You are precious in my sight, and I love you.”

One practice has helped me reconnect with God this winter. I learned it at a yoga class for faculty and staff on the Close. At the end of every session, the teacher invites us to lie on our backs, close our eyes, and gradually relax our bodies and thoughts. Whatever worries we may have had about not doing the stretches or movements right falls away.

September 15, 2022

There is nothing rushed about this time. It’s called Savasana, and it means: “To relax with attention. To remain conscious and alert while still being at ease.” If you practice this daily or even weekly, you condition your body to release stress. I recently woke up at 3:00 a.m. with my thoughts spinning and my body tense. I said the word, “Savasana” and felt my whole being relax. I was able to fall back to sleep.

We can’t lie down right now in these choir stalls, but I invite you to close your eyes for a few minutes. Go ahead. Be aware of your breath. You do not need to take loud breaths; those are actually more shallow than deep, relaxing breaths. Sit still and let your mind be aware of where you feel tension or stress in your body. You do not need to worry about doing anything right now to please or be praised by others. God loves you just as you are.

He wants to nourish you from the riches of his grace. What might the riches of God’s grace look like? A dreary winter weekend day transformed into beauty by lightly falling snow. What might these riches sound like? The sound of Cathedral bells ringing through Northwest D.C. above the din of traffic and impatient honking. What could the riches of God’s grace smell and taste like? A home-cooked meal when you come back weary from sports or home-made soup in the refectory at lunch. What does God’s grace feel like? The way your whole body relaxes when you are sad or discouraged and someone who loves you gives you a hug.

You may slowly open your eyes and come back.

Consider now what our community might feel and be like if all of us offered our presence and attention to each other out of such a place of quiet confidence. We would be a community rich indeed. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Located in Washington D.C.,  St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.