Ron Higdon: Can We Do Anything That Really Matters?

by Dr. Ronald Higdon, retired pastor and author of In Changing Times: A Guide for Reflection and Conversation and Surviving a Son’s Suicide.

 

boat-in-the-seaThe sea is so great and my boat is so small.” When I first heard that many years ago I had no idea just how immense that sea would become and how much my tiny craft would seem to shrink. I also had concept of how stormy that sea could become. At the conclusion of a political campaign that, according to a recent poll, has greatly increased the anxiety level of over fifty percent of the population, the land of the free and the home of the brave seems to have become the abode of the fearful.

One of my favorite biblical texts from childhood onward has been the question Mordecai sent to Queen Esther. For years the only translation I knew was (Esther 4:14): “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” More modern translations (TNIV) give a slightly different twist: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” Either way, the meaning is clear: Your place in this crucial time provides you with the opportunity to do something significant.

Of course, we lament, if we had some place of status or office of power we certainly would be in a position to have some significant influence over current events. But in this present global churning sea of difficulty how can we possibly do anything that really matters? It is easy to decide that since we can’t do anything great we won’t do anything at all.

Recently, my devotional reading has surfaced two well-known pieces I think belong together. The First is The Practice of Self-Abandonment of Jean-Pierre de Caussade – widely known in its more popular version – The Sacrament of the Present Moment. The essence of its teaching is that God is present in this moment and it is the only one we have in which to live and do our “duty.” “De Caussade maintains that past thinking leads to discouragement and future thinking leads to anxiety and fear. De Caussade goes on to say that nothing is so small or trivial in God’s eyes. This moment holds the will of God for me.” (Mary Margaret Funk, Tools for Practicing the Spiritual life. New York: Continuum, 107-108).

The second piece is the famous prayer used by AA: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Some things are “fixed.” But not everything is beyond changing – or at least moderating. And it does take real courage to tackle what I can change in myself and my small world of influence. The wisdom to know the difference between the two saves us from both frustration and discouragement.

In this present moment, wherever I happen to be positioned, I have the opportunity to do what I can, with what I have, to the best of my ability. I can certainly refuse to add to the anger and rage that has gripped so many during this election campaign. I can refuse to participate in the dehumanizing of anyone. I can work on being a non-anxious presence with whomever and wherever I am. I can work on turning down the heat in a highly conflicted culture.

I am always encouraged by the memorable words of Mother Teresa: “We are not called to do great things but small things with great love.” Her work among the nobodies of Calcutta has inspired countless people to give the best they can bring to the needs of those who are right at their doorstep. It encourages a one-on-one approach to living.

I have no doubt that we are all here for such a time as this. We are meant to live today where we are with the gifts we have. We are meant to do what we feel we are capable of doing. What really matters is to begin each day with the simple prayer: “I know, Lord, that this is the day you have made and it is my only time to live. Help me to discover what I can do this day to make a difference – be it ever so small. What really matters after all is knowing I’m doing something and not simply observing life from the sidelines.”