A few posts back, we used our RPG parable to propose The Resist Factor – a numerical representation of how intensely people resist reciprocity. We are looking at this more closely now that we have played out the rest of our game. The Resist Factor is a crucial element in understanding the underpinnings of spiritual nourishment… and the beginnings of spiritual starvation.
It is worth repeating that it is equally meritorious if people are more likely to give of themselves to others (initiate) or receive others to themselves (anticipate). These traits speak to the leanings of our natural talents and are not a criticism of our behavior. The issue is the difference in intensity between the two. If our role play is at all a parable of real life, the more exclusively one acts in either giving or receiving, the higher the resistance there will be toward those who wish to reciprocate. Super-givers will strongly resist others giving to them, and super-receivers will strongly resist being received by others.
Once more, we emphasize: it is not a matter of balance; it is a matter of resistance.
It will be very helpful if we look at this concept, resistance, in terms of its meaning in electrical circuitry. Such “resistance” is, most simply, the degree to which electrical current will be impeded by the material comprising its path. Resistors are purposefully wired in to circuits to work against the flow of current. Some reasons for doing this: reducing voltage to protect extra-sensitive components from being damaged… converting electrical current into light (as in an incandescent filament)… converting electrical current into heat (as in a heating coil)… and offering variable setting control over the strength of the current (as in a volume dial or dimmer switch). Resistance is not a bad thing. It is put to good use in each of these examples.
There is also something called magnetoresistance, which is a fancy term for when electrical current is pushed back by the presence of a magnetic field. The same principles operate here as you feel when you hold two magnets together with the same polarity facing one another.
Our Resist Factor works very much like magnetoresistance, if you think of Giving and Receiving as opposite poles of a magnet. Those with extra-strength giving power resist the same pole, someone giving to them. Those with extra-strength receiving power resist being received by others. It works almost identically to the principle that opposite magnetic poles attract and like poles repel… or, in this case, resist.
Resisting others giving to us might look like this:
Resisting being received by others might look like this:
These lists are broad brush strokes of how we might resist reciprocity, knowingly or unknowingly. Any one of these behaviors can arise from numerous other factors as well. The crucial point of knowing our Resist Factor is that it is a direct indicator of our risk for spiritual starvation.
If we go back to this post from August, 2017, we recall how we imagined spiritual connection as a continuous chain, beginning with God at our source. We envisioned a chain rather than an electronic circuit to emphasize the contribution that each individual link makes to our spiritual nourishment. It is necessary to keep that imagery of chain-links, but it is also possible to conceptualize each link as a conductor of spiritual energy in the same fashion as electromagnetic current flowing through complex circuitry. Some links will transmit more readily (= higher conductivity) and others will impede the flow (= higher resistance).
Are some links in our chain resistors? Yes. Do they serve as impediments to receiving God’s signal, or are they deliberately functional, such as filaments, heating coils or volume control dials? These remain to be seen in future thoughts. For this week, we consider how our links are affected by the strength of our Resist Factor, which can reduce or block God’s signal altogether.
Simply put: If the Resist Factor is an opposing force to the flow of spiritual nourishment God sends us, it cannot fully reach its destination. The stronger the resistance, the less nourishment gets through.
The less nourishment gets through… the greater our risk of spiritual starvation.
It is as simple as that. And as complex as our habits are entrenched.
We often see only the person before us, not God-in-that-person; however, it is God who ultimately wants to spend time with us, wants to know us, and wants to lavish us with things that are both good and delightful, with the help of the people in whom His essence also dwells.
Our Resist Factor may be a matter of habit, or anxiety, or impulsivity, or an unyielding need to be in control at all times. No matter what the underlying cause may be: if we continually resist reciprocity, we actively push back a main artery of the spiritual nourishment we need to thrive as human beings.
One last, crucial piece: Super-givers [those who initiate, volunteer, offer and provide without pause and without rest] and super-receivers [those who anticipate, welcome, listen to and nurture with open hearts] are equally likely to sense strong spiritual nourishment flowing through them to others and feel very satisfied that they are doing their part to combat spiritual starvation. Yet both strongly resist nourishment flowing back toward them.
Spiritual hunger lacks the pangs we feel on empty stomachs. However, the secondary symptoms of spiritual malnourishment are very similar to those of physical hunger: agitation… restlessness… inattentiveness… pressuring others… anxiety… irritability… listlessness… lethargy… flightiness… loss of interest… loss of empathy… superficiality… distractedness… and desperation. Among many other signs.
Parables and role plays are not all that different. Both require imagining ourselves in hypothetical situations. We put forth this RPG to help us understand the concepts underlying our Mission… and our responsibilities as Missionaries.
PRAY: Heavenly Father, help me see and understand these concepts with love, and not accusation; with compassion, and not condemnation; with wonder, and not fear. It is my job right now to learn, but not yet to act. Remain with me as I ponder these ideas.
CONTEMPLATE: Does the Resist Factor make sense to you? If not, ponder what it is that does not click, and write it in the comments for this post (or, if you receive these thoughts via email, reply to firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments).
RELATE: For the rest of the week, each time you encounter another person, remind yourself that each person bears God’s essence… and, that this essence is given as nourishment to your soul.
We are wrapping up our role play experience this week and next with reflections and comments on the whole thing. If you have taken the time to really immerse yourself, you’re probably hitting the same snags as everyone else. Great! This is, in fact, an intended part of the process. Our RPG is designed to focus our attention on the most basic foundational pegs of human relationships, allowing us to see how such things are affected on a rather grand scale by the seemingly smallest subtleties of orientation and assumption.
We’ll start with what is most fresh – revisiting our solitary/mentor discussion from last week. Did anyone find it jarring to see this bit of advice?
It might be the wording, or the slightly dismissive tone. Perhaps it’s the suggestions that seem a little off. Perhaps it’s the whole paragraph that seems… downright insensitive.
And, this is a role play, after all, so we can use more liberty here than we would take in real situations.
The advice above was blithely given to those of us drawing the “solitary” choice from the Help Deck. The “mentor” card, on the other hand, received a good ten paragraphs or more of discussion and elaboration. Assuming a 50/50 chance of drawing either card, the “solitary” players really got shortchanged. It would appear that our agenda centered on extolling the virtues of mentorship and convincing readers that this is a key part of doing what we do.
It was. We are not ashamed to say that we did want to do that, and we hope we did a decent job of it. But now we need to look at the flip side, the notion of playing alone, answerable only to ourselves. A lot of people live their lives this way on purpose… but a great many more go through their day to day with no mentoring simply because it’s not there. Life does not play out with a deck of cards. Many, many people do what they do with what they have, without the benefit of a game structure to introduce someone as a designated and trustworthy advisor.
Our advice (in our opinion) smacks a little too much of reality. How many of us have heard these messages, in one way or another?
For those of us who have, or have ever had, any difficulty in any social situation or relationship, this is the kind of talk that makes us want to explode… or give up.
To be fair, these statements by themselves are not entirely bad. Many times we
do need encouragement to try harder. Many times we need to be reminded by
someone else that we are being too harsh of a critic toward ourselves. Many
times it is indeed helpful to glance at someone else and see what their secrets to
The key is not to do any of that for ourselves.
These messages take on different nuances, depending on their source. If someone is truly connected to us, understands our need and suggests something along these lines, it can be very helpful and reassuring. If it is a message that comes from someone to whom we are not personally connected, it sounds like an unhelpful platitude meant to keep us from inconveniencing the speaker. If it comes from ourselves, especially as we go further down the list, it begins to sound less encouraging and more dishonest.
There will be times when we have to wing it. There will be times when we improvise, or when we are out of ideas and have to keep trying anyway. Life is like that sometimes, no matter how well we try to plan or control what happens. But habitually falling back on ourselves without the benefit of feedback or encouragement gives us a sense of insulation that whispers the temptation to fake it ‘till we make it. After awhile, we internalize that our success is based on a fraudulent façade… which disconnects us from our very selves.
Think about that.
How often does real life give us the “solitary” card instead of the benefit of a “mentor” card? Too often, unfortunately. We have no way to guarantee we will have mentors available. So what, then, can we do, when we find ourselves with only ourselves?
Remember, our Mission as Missionaries of Saint Thorlak is to take on spiritual starvation, one ordinary step at a time. Keep this foremost in our minds, and not only will we protect ourselves from spiritual malnourishment, but we will lead others by our example.
PRAY: Heavenly Father, help me to recognize the people You provide as emissaries to me, and help me see where I am needed as Your emissary to others.
CONTEMPLATE: When have I heard, or said, advice like the statements we have studied in this week’s Missionary Thought? What message has it sent?
RELATE: Actively practice one of the suggestions from this week’s Thought ( Pray / Designate / Cultivate / Mentor ).
At last, we are on the fourth and final deck of our role play: the Help Deck. Like the previous cards, this deck yields one of two options: SOLITARY or MENTOR.
If you are assigned “solitary,” it does not mean you are isolated or restricted from interacting with other players. It means that you get to choose your game play and strategy to suit yourself and your motives. You know your power, your weakness, your resist factor, your intent and your mode of operation – and you get to be executive producer of it all. No matter what happens, you are only answerable to you. If you are pleased with how your game is going, you smile to yourself and think, “I’ve got a good handle on this.” If you’re not pleased… well, you still have all the skills you’re used to using, so maybe you can take a deep breath and try a little harder. If you’re unsure of yourself, improvise as best you can. Maybe you can watch and mimic what some of the other, more successful players are doing. Maybe the fact that it’s a role play will give you a burst of courage to try something you’ve never done before. Rest easily – you are free to be your own cheerleader or your own worst critic. Best of all, nobody will ever know if you are highly skilled or just winging it. That’s between you and… you.
The “mentor” card allows you – in fact, obligates you – to seek and accept another player as your mentor. You are free to pick and choose, even perhaps even interview other players before settling on your mentor. What counts is that you have someone consistently and actively engaging with you to help you have a successful gaming experience.
This is where your other cards really start to come into play.
As you begin the search for your mentor, are you stronger with giving, or receiving? Do you have a high resist factor? Those elements help determine how easily you approach, and well you will benefit, from being mentored.
Do you have a material orientation? You’re probably going to expect your mentor to measure your progress or tally your “correct” choices. If you instead have a spiritual orientation, you’re more likely to look at the quality of your interactions. You may consider how it feels to act sincerely, or how you feel during your interactions, or how others react to you.
How about mode of operation? Your willingness to be mentored will be vastly different if you are open versus self-preserving. What happens when your mentor tells you something in your game is not working, or worse, is coming across as hurtful? An open mode will permit you to discern the helpful elements from that feedback. A self-preserving mode will find you ready to dismiss or oppose anything that questions your competency or hints that you might need help – because help shackles you in dependency on others, and once you start accepting help, you’ll never be able to speak your own mind without having to worry about pleasing everyone. In that case, you might think it expedient to cut ties and find a new mentor.
Wow. This is a lot of work. Isn’t a “mentor” someone who makes things easier?
No. Which brings us to an important point. We chose that term, “mentor,” very deliberately. A mentor is someone who imparts wisdom to you for your benefit. They are, by definition, benefactors. We could have dubbed this person your “helper,” leaving their disposition up to chance, but we explicitly created this role to have benevolent intent. There is no chance your mentor will sabotage you or want anything for you other than your best interests.
Sometimes, the things in your best interest are those which challenge you the hardest.
Sometimes, one person will care enough to step up and tell you a difficult truth for the sake of helping you grow, or helping you see a pitfall before you stumble. THAT is a mentor. You are fortunate indeed if that mentor also happens to be a friend or a family member.
To be sure, you are only likely to click with a certain few people in this kind of relationship. Mentors are people, after all, and not all personalities are compatible. Connecting is all the more difficult when we realize that the best growth happens when we are most vulnerable. How hard it is to find the right person with whom we can be our most vulnerable selves!
How will you know who to seek as your mentor? Should you consider their card profile, their propensities, their modes of operation? Can a player with a “solitary” disposition be your mentor? (In game play, yes, any other player can be your mentor. They themselves must rely on their own resources, but they are still free to be a resource to you).
Resource. That’s a great way to put it.
A mentor is not an accountability partner who agrees to keep you on track while you push yourself outside your comfort zone. Neither is a mentor strictly a friend, or a master to an apprentice. A mentor is a resource: Someone who fills a need. And, as with natural resources, sometimes that which you need from that person is hidden in plain sight, or requires cultivating, or will only be evident after a good amount of sifting, observing, and sifting some more. Get to know the stories of the people around you, and you may discover that they possess information and empathy in areas you never knew would help. You will find exquisite treasure particularly among those who have struggled, have failed previously, or even now are experiencing great pain. Do not limit your search to only those who profess expertise. It is the difference between reading a brief encyclopedia entry or a poignant memoir.
Expertise is good. Please, do not get us wrong. But most of us are not experts. Most of us would do better to have the manual on how to get back up again, not how to get there without falling.
Jesus fell. Three times, in fact. Literally.
If anyone could write a handbook on how to cope with being misunderstood, dealing with rejection, living with betrayal, handling unjust treatment and going forward when everything you have built collapses… He can.
It is a shame that Jesus is not in our game.
If two or more are playing together, in a shared spirit of gaining insights together… that activates Matthew 18:20… bringing Jesus into the room with us.
In fact, He is right there. Across from you. Beside you.
Hoping to greet you.
And, what if you are feeling alone as you hold your “solitary” card?
Remember: All that means is that you are going it alone, without being mentored.
If you find yourself in that situation, and you want to connect with Jesus… go and mentor someone else. Matthew 18:20 works both ways.
Our game is set up at last. Time to play. Next week, we will look back on the experience and see how it applies to real life.
PRAY: Sacred Scripture writers make excellent mentors. One of our favorites is Saint Paul. For this week, our prayer is to read Philippians 4:12-14 and imagine Saint Paul saying this to you after you have approached him with a hard question in your life.
CONTEMPLATE: Think how Saint Paul’s words, “It was kind of you to share my trouble” echo to our themes of voluntary humility and caritas. In his context in particular, our word, “need,” can be well substituted for his word, “trouble.” In what circumstances does it seem burdensome when you have shared in someone’s need?
RELATE: Think on the people in your life who are mentors to you, and then, those to whom you act as a mentor. Do you simply share expertise, or do you share your very stories with one another?
We’re up to the third deck in our role play. We have our power, our weakness, our resist factor and our material/spiritual intent. We now choose our mode of operation: OPENNESS or SELF-PRESERVATION. This card describes how we approach other players in the game.
This is a very laid-back simulation. We have not mentioned scorekeeping or stockpiling, and it’s not altogether clear if this is a competition or a friendly gathering, but we do know that it is a game of individual players, not teams. If this is a competitive game, the mode of operation takes on particular importance. “Openness” is useful in team play but not in head-to-head competition. You don’t want to be too open in chess, or in poker, or in dodge ball. “Self-Preservation,” on the other hand, seems to be an obvious game strategy. You want to protect your position, your pieces and your gains, and it’s not a good idea to let your guard down.
What about relationships?
Openness in relationships is about the same as it is in game play. The price of openness is vulnerability, and the payoff is interconnected participation. Self-preservation, on the other hand, is a safer way to operate, at the expense of sharing yourself and experiencing others more fully.
The word “preservation” itself has its origins in the concept of sealing things against disease and decay. It was originally used in the context of extending the safe shelf life of food, so you can get the sense of what that might entail: pressed, isolated, airtight packing; curing and dehydrating meat; adding agents such as salt to inhibit the growth of bacteria or to keep foods dry; or boiling, followed by canning or freezing. The premise is to destroy things which break the food down and then to create a breach-proof barrier against future agents of disease.
Self-preservation, obviously, is a different sort of concept, referring to an act to protect our bodies and spirits against attack or malaise. We hear about it during times of extremes. Self-preservation during war is a necessary and intelligent course of action. Self-preservation in times of high duress is also reasonable and appropriate. First responders and emergency workers often use techniques to lessen the intensity of the emotions they feel on scene so that they can function more rationally and with the focus needed to operate under horrible and tragic conditions. There are also times when self-preservation becomes necessary in our relationships, particularly if we find ourselves being abused or witnessing abuse. It happens.
For a role play simulation, these outlooks are fine and interesting to contemplate and explore. It seems, though, that there is an imbalance of probability between the two. The extreme conditions leading to self-preservation are, for the most part, much less likely to occur than the ordinary conditions which lend themselves to openness. Even first responders, who see extremes on a daily basis, have a day off now and then. It seems disproportionate to have these as choices for our modes of operation if self-preservation is more of a situational variable and openness is more of a long-term habit.
Unless, of course, they are, in fact, equal.
The stark truth is that there are many people who operate in self-preservation mode routinely. Some have had traumatic events in their past which have robbed them of the ability to trust. Some are highly sensitive people who experience their emotions and relationships so intensely at baseline that they need some form of modulation to cope and function well. Some are people who have adopted these habits so gradually over time that they may not even be aware they are using them.
If we were to create a set of pamphlets on “How to Operate in Openness Mode” and “How to Operate in Self-Preservation Mode,” it might surprise people to see how quickly they recognize their patterns. In lieu of pamphlets, we’ll give you the basic rundown of the operating rules for each mode in a hypothetical scenario.
Two guests are sharing a meal put on by their mutual friend who is hosting them. Toward the end of the meal, one guest leaves the table unexpectedly, abruptly getting his coat. “I have to go,” he says. “Thanks for dinner!”
As he leaves, the remaining guest and the host have two different reactions.
The remaining guest, who operates in Openness Mode, is confused by the surprising departure of the other guest. This person actively extends herself to understand what happened. She discerns, considers, observes, ponders. She does not have any lack of emotion – in fact, she’s rather upset, because she knows the other person quite well and feels miffed that he left without any warning or explanation. She wonders if she said something offensive. She worries. She is a bit irritated, because the other guest had something important to give her for a project they had been working on, and now she is left feeling frustrated. She runs all kinds of possible ideas through her mind. Maybe he became ill. Maybe he forgot something. Maybe he was embarrassed. Maybe she just cannot know right now. No matter what, she seeks the best possible interpretation, aware that it could be that he has not worked at all on the project and that he is acting very rudely in his behavior. She is open to his side of the story. She will remain as optimistic as the situation will allow.
The host, on the other hand, who operates in Self-Preservation Mode, is livid. He knows better than to trust people. He is always on alert and prepared for the worst case scenario. He is ready to attack or defend, in a state of perpetual presumption. He will not allow himself to be hurt, used or let down. He spends the next ten minutes angrily insulting the guest who left, unable to believe he went to all this effort for someone as ungrateful as that. Furthermore, he never had much use for him anyway. He remembers several other times this man was reluctant to help, and he is not surprised he acted in such an offensive way tonight.
Who knows what really happened? Who knows what will happen? Will the abrupt absentee return briefly with the packet for his friend, saying “Oops! Almost forgot!” Will he act like nothing happened in a few days? Is he even aware of how his behavior came across?
Now take the host’s outlook and extend it across every other possible scenario. The habit of assuming the worst is very easily nurtured. People with this outlook are rooted in fear and distrust. While it does keep them from being taken advantage of, this safety from hurt is also a safety from love, mercy, need and engagement.
Put another way, people who adopt the regular habit of self-preservation are immune from disease… because they keep themselves in an emotional vacuum. Just like a good, well-sealed mason jar.
Some of the characteristics of items which have been in a state of preservation for longer than intended:
Food this far gone is usually thrown out and replaced. This is not an option for people. Nor should the spiritual state of our hearts ever get to this point.
To be fair, we need to acknowledge there are just as many risks that come with being open and “unpreserved.” People who assume the best are at risk for being hurt… being disappointed… being let down… looking foolish… looking naïve… and being wrong.
That’s the chance you take with discernment. People who are open allow in all kinds of possibilities, including the ones that are incorrect, and even sometimes dangerous. People who trust indiscriminately are especially vulnerable to danger and exploitation. Discernment is key. Openness does not require one to be a stooge or a doormat; it calls for discernment, a sifting of facts and an active search for that which is useful amidst the lint and clutter.
We could say that openness is a willingness to feel pain for the sake of finding the good… and that self-preservation is a pre-emptive rejection of anything that might hurt.
We could say that openness is an act of humility… and that self-preservation is a bold stand of pride.
Openness says, “I don’t understand… I need you to show me.” Self-preservation says, “I don’t need you to protect or defend me, I can do it myself.”
Notice which says “I need.”
There is a time to preserve, and a time to be open. Think about what these concepts mean, and we’ll put them in the game – along with our last deck – next week.
PRAY: Our prayer this week is a look at Sacred Scripture.
Read Luke 17:32-33.
CONTEMPLATE: What does this passage say to you about self-preservation?
RELATE: Carefully notice your interactions and attitudes this week, and see which mode of operation surfaces most. Do so with a spirit of wonder and not dread or fear. If you find that you do not like what you discover, then, thanks be to God – you now understand others who may be operating this way, in a manner you did not see before.
Material, or Spiritual Reciprocity?
We have had a week to think about reciprocity and the resist factor. There are still three decks of cards waiting for us – our intent, our mode of operation, and our help. It’s a slow-moving process being a contemplative ministry, but hopefully, it’s bearing good, rich fruit.
Reciprocity, you will recall, means a state of mutual dependence, an exchange of benefits, a cooperation and bestowal of privileges between people in power, all of which guarantee connection and spiritual nourishment. The degree to which we resist reciprocity determines a large part of our risk for spiritual starvation.
“Resist” implies something we actively do to push something away.
People resist things all the time, and many times we have no idea why. We are not purely logical beings, especially when it comes to relationships, acquired habits and all the subtle ways that fear influences our decisions. Resisting reciprocity is a habit with deep roots, many causes, and far-reaching spiritual implications.
Let’s have a look at that second deck. Pick up your card and see if you drew MATERIAL or SPIRITUAL. This is going to direct the orientation of your giving, receiving and reciprocal expectations.
MATERIAL reciprocity is the cleanest, most predictable and most logical to study. It is safe, in many ways, because it focuses on things rather than people. We learn this kind of transactional thinking from our earliest lessons in fairness, sharing and generosity:
As we progress through elementary years, we go from a concrete understanding like this to more abstract, subtle concepts of giving and receiving. By middle school, we start to see that fair does not always mean equal. Sharing is not always mandatory. Generosity is more a measure of the heart than a quantity given. Adolescents begin to see how these concepts transition from material to spiritual. Adults can give praise. People can share stories. Friends can be generous with their time.
The material side of giving, receiving and reciprocity never goes away, however. Money is earned, saved and spent. Donations are collected out of kindness and desire to help people struggling. Gifts are given – and expected – on special occasions. How we manage material things both fosters and reveals aspects of our character like prudence, wisdom, discernment, sacrifice and self-governance.
Generally speaking, material givers are those who spend on others, and material receivers are those who anticipate and plan for financial needs. (Did we catch you in thinking that material receivers are those who reap gifts? To a degree, yes, this is true; material receivers do get more than they give, preferring to take in than pay out).
Lest we turn our RPG into a financial planning game, do remember that this is about relationships. And what about that resist factor?
Those with material orientation and moderate resist factors may occasionally decline an opportunity to give, or may politely thank you but turn down a gift you offer, but the key is: they do not act from fear. In contrast, those with highest resist factors will try the hardest to block material reciprocity. They may refuse donations, gifts or acts of monetary kindness. They will easily make excuses to avoid contributing or volunteering. Keep in mind that these actions are not necessarily a love of money or a fear of poverty – they are a shrinking away from reciprocity.
Once more, there are far too many variables and possibilities to make an exhaustive examination. However, as we venture further into the details of the simulation, we start seeing how our material habits point to our spiritual habits… or, in some cases, make for a good smokescreen to hide our spiritual habits.
Materially speaking, our ease of giving and receiving can be impaired by fear of loss, fear of debt, or demand for security. Reciprocity adds the pressure of expectations when we think transactionally, if we feel like we need to appear impressive, generous or magnanimous. To many, receiving assistance or donation bears the unspoken obligation to give something in return, and this is a greater burden than bearing the hardship alone. Some feel awkward receiving a gift for the same reason. People who resist reciprocity are reluctant to give because they do not want to set a precedent or create expectations that their gifts will be regular or recurring. Some people refuse giving because their recipients have not demonstrated adequate standards of reciprocation in the past, along the lines of “why should I give them anything when they have overlooked me time after time?”
What if we drew the SPIRITUAL card? Can these same principles be said of our relationships, in the spiritual sense?
Many of us overlay the material rules of giving, receiving and reciprocity onto our spiritual lives. Not only do we hold ourselves to these principles as though they were rules, but we also expect others to apply these rules to us. How easy life would be if everything were transactional, able to be tabulated, and judged according to quantities.
But it does not hold up.
Humility says that we embrace what we have equally with what we do not have, and offer it all just as it is. Humility does not wait for satisfaction or demand it from others.
Mercy and forgiveness can only be begged because, by their very essence, they are a lessening of the sentence, a release from the debt we owe with nothing expected in return. If mercy is expected, that’s presumption, and negates the grace. If forgiveness is demanded, that’s extortion, and is anything but sincere.
Love? Love is at once gratuitous, irrational, sacrificial and laden with risk. In fact, the purest form of love is the highest risk.
How, then, can SPIRITUAL giving and receiving be discussed with any logic or application?
MATERIAL giving and receiving is finite because things are finite.
SPIRITUAL giving and receiving is infinite because God is infinite.
MATERIAL reciprocity must be approached with caution because things (money, gifts, donations) get used up and run out. Scarcity will always be a factor.
SPIRITUAL reciprocity can be approached with abandon because God Himself is humility, mercy, forgiveness and love… and can never run out, because God is infinite.
We forget this.
All the time.
What if we played this RPG as though nothing were finite, everything were in abundance?
Some of us would still hoard, and some would still demand equality and exact balance. Some would give more to their favorite players and hold back from the ones with whom we have grievances.
Some would hang back and not play much, because they have everything they need. Once giving and receiving reach stasis and an abundance is achieved, there’s not much left to do. What do those players do? Leave the game, or sit and watch… and grow distant?
Perhaps. Until one of us comes along and gives without counting, engaging you just because you are in the game.
Our basic framework is in place. Play away, and notice how the variables interact. See how similarly or differently you play with MATERIAL intent versus SPIRITUAL intent. See how well your game play parallels your spiritual life, whichever card you’ve chosen.
All of this sets the stage for the weeks ahead, when we start to see the effects of spiritual nourishment… or spiritual starvation.
PRAY: Heavenly Father, your ways are not our ways. Sacred Scripture shows time and again how material thinking clouds our faith and understanding of the Kingdom of God. Show me, through this exercise, how I approach humility, mercy, forgiveness and love… and any ways in which my habits keep me from experiencing these things in my relationships.
CONTEMPLATE: Do I approach relationships more spiritually or materially?
RELATE: Focus this week on your weaker area (giving/initiating or receiving/anticipating) by making a point to perform an action of just this kind. What made it easy or difficult?
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak