Often, a spiritual aspiration is defined as “living fully in the present.”
Buddhism embraces the idea of impermanence, or anicca, where all things exist through a unique combination of factors with no single moment ever being exactly the same as it constantly falls away into another totally new reality. The magnificent present is all there is and should be embraced and appreciated in its passing fullness.
Jesus, too, taught the importance of “living one day at a time” with the pragmatic insight that we should not “worry about tomorrow, for each day has enough trouble of its own.”
But for those of us involved in the helping profession, we often see the dangerously misinterpreted side of such wisdom. Instead of a precious admiration of the present, we encounter the tyranny of the immediate. Sitting before us in our offices or pleading with us on the other end of the phone waits the anxious person in need. The utilities will be cut off today unless a payment is received by 5 p.m. The car has no gas and a job or a sick relative is just one full tank’s distance away. There is no food in the house, and the children will soon be home after school.
In each case, help is given as help is available. Yet when living on the low end of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a different skill set is needed for basic success and survival. Planning ahead, anticipating problems, delaying gratification, living within limits and saving for a rainy day are all wise disciplines for avoiding tragedy.
Yes, an unanticipated crisis could wipe any of us out. Sometimes there is so little to manage that even the best plans have gaping holes. But more often than not, the people of need before us are either struggling with addiction and abuse complications or simply lack these elementary practices of life management. Over and over again, they find themselves in the same predicament.
Helping others, like managing life, requires finesse and balance. We must spend a little effort worrying about tomorrow and living within the budget of our schedules and pocketbooks, but we should spend the bulk of time taking deep breaths and long walks in the wonderful mystery of each moment’s miraculous birth and passing.
Similarly, we are not capable of fully judging those we have been called to help. If fact, we are told not to judge them, but to help them. Balance is restored when we recognize our helping must guard against enabling bad habits or opening up avenues of abuse. Perhaps that is why we are so strongly encouraged to help the stranger. We have less temptation to control our gift or judge its recipient.
We embrace each moment. Not because tomorrow is irrelevant, but because this is the only moment we truly have. We help others, not because we can control every outcome but because we sincerely believe it is the right thing to do – for others and for our own spiritual progress.
Compassion and benevolence walk hand in hand when we are attentive to the resources of our limited time and hard-earned money to redeem the day and minister to the broken. This is life, spiritual life, abundant life, even Christ- producing life. Exactly the kind of life that is eternal.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.