When Martin Luther King would speak about race relations, he would frequently use a quote, originally attributed to an unknown black minister who used it when he spoke about slavery. Basically, it was a reminder that we are works in progress.
Lord, we ain’t what we want to be;
we ain’t what we ought to be;
we ain’t what we gonna be,
but, thank God, we ain’t what we was.
This quote, often paraphrased by people simply changing it from a plural pronoun to a personal one, speaks about a significant journey, by an individual or a group.
Joyce Meyers may have shortened up the original quote a bit when she stated, “I am not where I need to be, but thank God I am not where I used to be.”
Works In Progress
Such is the case with my journey thus far. I am not yet where I hope to be along this path which we call life. I am perhaps a bit off center along the path I am currently traveling. However, as long as I keep moving, I am likely to be in a different place than where I am in a relatively short period of time. Finally, as I look in the rearview mirror, I see that I am in a radically different place than I once was.
At one point, I was an active, functional alcoholic. That chapter of my life has long since been closed, it will remain closed as long as I remain aware of the destruction which may be unleashed should I venture into dangerous territory.
It Is More Important To Be Who We Are Rather Than Who We Were
Consider that at one point we were children, anticipating going to school, playing with friends, and all that youth brought to us. As we moved towards and then through primary school, many of our activities and pastimes may have changed. Where we may have been involved in playing a game of hide and seek, we were now perhaps involved in organized youth sports. Primary school yielded in turn to secondary school with all of the additional “demands” that were heaped upon us.
Items which had not crossed our minds in the pre-school years were now commonplace to us and we were involved in the exploration of life that our teen years brought. Dating, learning to drive, SATs, high school football games, dancing, music, and myriad other items were waiting for our exploration and participation.
Secondary school may have been followed by college, then for many of us, marriage and children.
Adulthood? Really? In many cases, this may have seemed as if it were a verse from the Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?”
Each milestone marked a new event in life, or along our path of life’s progress. While these milestones are of importance and help us to be the person we are at that time, they should simply remind us to be in Matthew Kelly’s words, “The best version of ourselves.”
We are, always, the total of the knowledge and experiences which have brought us to this particular stage in our lives. It is a personalized version of 1 Cor 13:11, when as children we spoke and reacted as children, young adults as young adults and so forth.
The challenge is to use these experiences, interactions and knowledge in the best way we can to be of service to others, be of service to the Trinity in support of the vision they may have for us, and to be true to ourselves. An adult faith remains true to ourselves without following trends:
An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.
“We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith — only faith — that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.”
— Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, during a homily on April 18, 2005, on the eve of his election as pontiff.
We must strive to be the person we are while also working to become the person we would be.
Doing the Next Right Thing
As situations come up, as opportunities present themselves, the idea is to do the right thing, then do the next right thing that comes up, then the next and so on. Will we always do the next right thing, each time, every time and without question? Of course not. We will fail, we will be too tired, we will not have enough spare change, we will not be able to handle one more thing that gets heaped onto our already loaded plate or we will simply need some time to ourselves. Just remember, we are works in progress.
It is always far too easy to over commit and to “get too involved”, to “do too much” and run the risk of burning out. Even Christ Jesus who was Divine found it necessary to take time away from his day, his disciples, his ministry to be alone, pray, meditate and recharge. If it was necessary for Him to do so, how much more so for the mere human “us”.
The next right thing may not be starting a new ministry in our parish. The next right thing may be a simple walk hand-in-hand with our spouse as we disengage and let the world turn without our involvement for a few hours.
From time to time, we may need to be reminded to take some time as we travel along the path. The following may not be the universal panacea, it may not even be somewhat useful, but, it may be just a reminder…
Do the next right thing, look up and say “Thank you”, take some time to enjoy your current place in daily effort, share a laugh with your children, share a caress with your spouse, take some time away for prayer and meditation and then, when ready, do the next right thing.
To paraphrase an airplane safety demonstration, “There are several emergency exits on this aircraft. Please take a few moments now to locate your nearest exit. In some cases, your nearest exit may be behind you.”, the next right thing may be to cut yourself some slack and take the time to recharge such that you can be there for the next person in need.