Your vision of God can have a huge impact on your life. Sofia Cavalletti (foundress of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd - CGS) discovered that the child who had some religious training, even informal lessons at home, before the age of 6 innately understood that the relationship was built entirely on love. Children who started classes after the age six had a very different foundation. The "age of reason" kicks in around 6 or 7 years old and these children tended to have a bartering relationship with God. It is not easy to change that foundation, but it is possible.
My formal religious education didn't start until I entered school - about 6 years old. I am a product of what I like to call "The Rainbow and Butterfly Jesus" era. CCD lacked substance and essentially was mindless drivel. Apparently, it was suppose to stand for "Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine". I recall neither a fraternal connection nor being taught Catholic Doctrine. When I think back on how I would pray at that time, it was very much a bartering sort of prayer: God, please do 'x' and I'll do 'y'.
As I got older, I realized that bartering with God was pretty much useless, but when stressed I'd automatically snap back into that style of prayer. As I've said before, if CGS became the norm for religious education there would be a beautiful revolution in the Church. While I learned plenty of head knowledge while studying theology, my Sunday mornings with 3 year olds in CGS educated my heart. The children's joy was contagious and it helped this theology nerd to remember that God is all about love. Now that my son is nearing three, I'm trying to do our bedtime prayer the way I did it in CGS: songs and prayers of thanksgiving.
So, what does all this have to do with the above quote from Matthew? In today's Gospel, Jesus paraphrases from Hosea 6:6:
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than brunt offerings.
God wants me to have the joy and love of the child. If I do all the things I'm "supposed" to do for God, but lack joy and love, then that is nothing more than actions. God doesn't want bartering. God wants my whole heart, mind, affections, and soul.
What is your prayer like? Do you barter? Do you pray with joy? And, on bad days, can you be honest with God?