We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
One evening, back in college, a friend and I decided to take a break from studies to grab a snack at a nearby deli. The night was still as I drove; the sky completely black. As we turned a corner, my headlights shone brightly on a young man walking into the middle of the street: shockingly, he was naked and desperately signaling for us to stop. When we did, he told us he had been riding his bike when four men driving by in a car jumped him. They stripped him, stole his bike and wallet, and left him to fend for himself. As we drove him to a local hospital, my mind reeled from all the things that we unexpectedly confronted. And I couldn’t thinking, “I sure hope someone would stop for me if I ever needed help.”
So-called “Good Samaritan Tests” have many times been set up in seminaries, schools, and street settings to see if people extend themselves to aid someone in distress. Most of these experiments find that the majority of people will lend their aid as long as they have time. A person in a hurry is less likely to stop—and, of course, many people just walk away. Perhaps Scriptures would report a different story if the man traveling from Samaria had come upon the man in need while running late for a business meeting.
The Good Samaritan Tests do not confirm that our actions are solely motivated by a regard for time, care for others, or selfless interests. Nonetheless, our reactions to those in need can tell us much about ourself. At any given time we may be influenced by a range of motives, such as the desire to be helpful or the need to feel powerful. While most of us want to be “good,” we may negotite when our soul is tested for benevolence against our comfort zone. By discovering our soul and examining our daily actions, we can better understand the impulses and needs that drive us and find clearer, more meaningful understanding of our relationships with our Self, Others, and God.
Our actions our functional beliefs, our real creed, our Truth. Truth is not simply imposed upon us; we have a role to play in embracing it — but not, of course, complete conscious control over it.
Consider this story: a Baptist woman sat in the pew at church, joyfully responding “Amen!” “Amen!” as the preacher read through each of the Ten Commandments. When the minister came to the Commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” she leaned over to the woman next to her and crossly whispered, “Now he's beginning to meddle.”
Embracing the soul requires unity with God. The woman described above, not unlike most of us, participates selectively in her faith—what she’s ready for—we may not really live according to our Truth. She is present, even engaged in and excited about her faith--except when her faith requires her to change some of her set ways. She is not totally committed to the truth she espouses because she is not fully trusting and loyal to her spiritual connection. She accepts Truth insofar as it conforms to her actions. When Truth interferes with her preferences, she distances herself from it.
I remember following a diet where I was to lose a certain amount of weight through exercise and calorie-counting. After losing a few pounds, I had a medical consultation. My doctor said everything was moving along well, but I was not losing weight at the same rate I had initially. In fact, seeing some progress, I had started adding some of my favorite snacks to my diet as I was making progress. A few days after this appointment, the doctor sent me a copy of the good results, but added a note: “Now change!” Though I was stung by his abruptness, he was right: if I was to reach the goal I had set for myself, I would have to change. Just as an athlete cannot develop skills without regular exercise and practice, without believing in his game and envisioning victory, a person cannot develop a substantial spiritual life without discipline and effort--moreover, without the determination to break through perceived limits, beyond the barrier of established habits.
When we limit our responsiveness to our Truth, we compromise our ability to achieve our potential. We become distracted from genuine encounters with Truth and favor alternatives that do not lead to fulfillment.
For many reasons, even those who take their belief in God seriously tend to personally tailor their course of spirituality rather than follow directives that others, more advanced, identify as guidelines. The point does not suggest that one should blindly follow—but raises the issue of resistance to achieve the goal. A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that 87% of Americans view themselves as religious, yet only 57% participate regularly in worship and activities within their denominational tradition. This factor alone, of course, does not define spiritual achievement, yet makes the point that compromise does not lead to objectives. While some are steadfast in following established guidelines for success, others develop an eclectic direction dictated by personal preferences in their identified quest for growth. Still others prefer to commit to their own personal interpretation of God and religion outside of given practices.
While it fair to ask, how is one to know the path to Truth given so many diverse and varied paths? We must exercise our capacity for discernment about our spiritual practice, about the traditions we choose to embrace. Once we have established our course, we must be open to the personal investment spirituality requires. In the end, we cannot have it both ways; we can expect to grow in our Truth--to acquire our spiritual potential--by our having control but through turning over control to Who/what we believe as Truth.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of True Coming of Age: A Dynamic Process That Leads to Emotional Stability, Spiritual Growth, and Meaningful Relationships. For more information please visit www.drchirban.com and www.sexualproblems.com.