Before a man are life and death, good and evil,
and whichever he choses will be given to him.
For great is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power and sees everything.
The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
and he knows every deed of man.
Jesus said that the central Commandment for His followers was to love God the Father and one another. The rest of the New Testament is essentially about how to live this out. One particular writer put it succinctly:
Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
Holiness is how we live out our loving of God with heart, mind, soul, and strength. And if we cannot “see the Lord” without this holiness, then how do we make sure we are becoming holy?
There are, of course, far, far wiser spiritual writers than me who have addressed this, both in books and other media—and one such source that I highly recommend are all the writings and media of Father Thomas Dubay, God rest his soul! Of course, all that we have in the Church is directed towards this, especially the Sacraments and our liturgical worship and devotions.
Often holiness has been described as a process of growing to be like Christ one small step after another. Much like the old adage of how to eat an elephant: One bite at a time. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, for example, He emphasized the necessary process of being faithful in a little before one is trusted with more (Mt 25:14-30). In His Sermon on the Mount, He also eluded to this process:
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. (Matthew 6:33-34)
In other words, our present moment is our first responsibility; the long term effects of our present efforts are beyond our present view. We can only move forward in trust knowing that our present obedience, or present disobedience, will have a cumulative and lasting eternal result.
This struck me last night when I was out mowing a field. As I precariously drove my tractor up a slope along a fence line, I remembered what that fence line was like fifteen years ago when our family moved from the city out onto our country property, a portion of my wife Marilyn’s old family farm. Most of our rolling acreage was overgrown with scrub trees, spice bushes, brambles, and multi-flora rose. It was a mess, and mostly seemed of little value! It was obvious what “leaving it to nature” had caused.
At the time we had no experience whatsoever in farming, and with few active farming neighbors, we had few to ask what we should do. But with what we gleaned from conversations and readings, we began chipping away at the mess, with hand-clippers, axes, chain saws, string-trimmers, a tractor, a front-loader, and the all-powerful brush-hog. We also enrolled the help of a variety of critters: cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs. Every year, with what time and energy we could muster, we made improvements, rebuilding fence rows, toppling unwanted or dead trees, uprooting bramble bushes, developing springs, and improving the quality of the pastures through mowing and grazing.
It is important to admit that we weren’t always sure, or agreed, as to what direction we were going with our “farm.” (To this day I’m hesitant to use this term, for I’ve grown to have nothing but awesome respect for the diligence and intelligence of our American farmers—especially those who have gone before us, doing so much more with so much less.) Often, at the time, all I knew was that something right before me needed to be done: if we didn’t do it now, it might never get done, and it would only grow worse.
Then last night, as I drove my tractor and mower up the now smooth slope and saw extending before me a beautiful expansive field of Kentucky blue, Timothy, and clover, I remembered what this was like before, and how, without revealing the full blueprints, God has guided us over the years, one step at a time. What we are able to do now, as I enter into my “twilight years”, we could not have done except for what we have previously done year after year, and all of course because of the gracious gifts from God of this property and resources, of our children, family, and friends, of time, and of our health.
I believe more and more that what is most important is not anything about our past, or about where we might be or what we might have in the future, but about how we are being faithful right now, at this moment, with what we have, and what we have been given.
The past is gone—unless we need to make amends or seek forgiveness, which is a present necessity “that must be fixed” if it has been neglected, for like an unkept field, it will only grow into an insurmountable barrier.
And the future is but an unfathomable concoction of our measly efforts and the grace of God—all good, of course, being an outpouring of His grace—but since we have no way of knowing for certain our future, we can only focus every effort on being humbly obedient in the present moment, knowing that God will work out all things “for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
All of this is summarized in my favorite Proverb:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Prov 3:5-6).
As I turned my tractor around a large walnut tree, I was stopped abruptly by a strange unexpected site. It’s hard to see in the picture to the right, but there passing slowing across the open field was a momma possum carrying her brood of babies. None of them showed any fear. In fact, the baby possums, bouncing along bright eyed to the world around, trusting completely in the patient gait of their mother, seemed calmly thrilled by the sight of me and my large tractor. “Wow! Look at that! Wonder what it is?!”
Have we lost the trusting thrill of our present moment, regardless of our past, present, or future financial situations, knowing that the patient gait of our Creator and Father has nothing but good in store for those who thankfully seek, one step at a time, to grow in His likeness?
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. (Philippians 4:11)