Skip to main content

Paying Forward

I had not really thought much about it until my friend mentioned it in his remarks to me and some of my younger student friends.  He is a pretty “big person” in our part of the world.  He is a name of national prominence.  I feel fortunate to have a good relationship with him.  Apart from a good friendship, I don’t get any special things from him.  The best thing is his willingness to take time to speak to my student friends.

The “it” he mentioned was in the phrase, “paying it forward.”  There he was in front of us saying the real reason he was spending time with us was to “pay it forward.”  It was appropriate.  He did not have to do this.  He wasn’t going to get anything personally from doing it.  In fact, we could actually be seen as a pain in the neck for him!  But he wanted to pay it forward.

Most of us know what this means.  Usually it comes out of recognition that somebody or, even, a few others did things for us when we were younger.  It could have been opportunities for something we might not have managed on our own.  Sometimes it is as simple as introducing us to someone and suggesting that person look out for our welfare.  Personally, I have been graced by a few people who were good mentors.  They paid it forward for me by taking some time, having some interest in me and offering me a chance to learn from their experiences and mistakes.  In most cases this was not something I could have learned in the classroom.

So there was my friend “paying it forward.”  He was offering insights from his own experience.  He was making suggestions.  They were more like suggestions than advice.  Too often, advice is given, but it really does not mean much.  One of the best things my friend did was to use himself as an example to show us what it meant when people “paid it forward” for him.

Long after the event, I began thinking about this experience, but this time from a spiritual point of view.  It became clear to me that “paying it forward” can appropriately be seen in the spiritual context.  Obviously almost everything that has been said so far can apply to the spiritual context.  We can have spiritual mentors.  We usually benefit from spiritual suggestions.

As I thought about it, I realized there was even more to “paying it forward” spiritually.  Let me put it simply.  “Paying it forward” has dual directionality for me.  From one direction “paying it forward” means that I have be graced from God and from others.  God looked out for me before I started looking out for myself.  Others had my welfare and best interests at heart even before I was too concerned for my spiritual best interests---and began work for those spiritual best interests.

This kind of grace is not just a historical event---something that was done for me in some time past.  It is not like some kind of inoculation shot that you get and it covers you for life.  To the contrary.  This kind of “paying it forward” grace happens in the past and happens in the present.  To stay with the metaphor of shots, I can get a booster shot of grace any day---any time or all the time.  Grace is the kind of resource that can never be depleted and will never run out.  Like God’s love, it is inexhaustible.

On the other hand, “paying it forward,” means for me a kind of ministry.  Here I am the actor and not the recipient.  Ministry is a matter of paying it forward.  Ministry is my grace for others.  The good news about grace---either for me or for others---is grace is always a gift.  The question of whether you deserve it or not doesn’t enter the picture.  In my ministry to others, my call is to be gracious.  This is a relief.  I do not have to calculate whether the other is worthy of my grace in ministry.  I don’t have to worry or get mad if they do not seem to appreciate my ministry for them.

My ministry is service.  It is care---a form of loving.  I do it regardless of how it is received.  I give it unconditionally.  This is a radically free place for me.  I “pay it forward” because that is my commitment in ministry.  Therefore, I have done my duty.  I have been responsible and obedient.

I know some times my ministry might be effective in creating positive things.  But I also know that some times the ministry goes out to folks who are not ready for something different.  Ministry is gift, not coercion.  Ministry is gift, not manipulation.  My simple calling is to “pay it forward.”

In summary, I am glad to know that I am in the middle of “paying it forward.”  I realize some others are continuing to “pay it forward” for me.  I know this is exactly what Jesus, the Buddha and other religious giants have done.  My call is to do my part by “paying it forward” in my ministry.  I will never be confused with Jesus or the Buddha.  Being them, however, is not my calling.  Being me---fully and authentically me---is my calling.  Being me happens best when I realize what others have done for me, and what I am to do for others.

Popular posts from this blog

Inward Journey and Outward Pilgrimage

There are so many different ways to think about the spiritual life.And of course, in our country there are so many different variations of religious experiences.There are liberals and conservatives.There are fundamentalists and Pentecostals.Besides the dizzying variety of Christian traditions, there are many different non-Christian traditions.There are the major traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on.There are the slightly more obscure traditions, such as Sikhism, Jainism, etc.And then there are more fringe groups and, even, pseudo-religions. There are defining doctrines and religious practices.Some of these are specific to a particular tradition or a few traditions, such as the koan, which is used in Zen Buddhism for example.Other defining doctrines or practices are common across the religious board.Something like meditation would be a good example.Christians meditate; Buddhists meditate.And other groups practice this spiritual discipline. A favorite way I like to …

A Pain is not a Pain

A rose may be a rose, but a pain is not a pain.  Maybe somebody has said that before, but I have never heard it.  So I am assuming (for the moment) I made it up.  Of course, most of us have heard that line, “a rose is a rose.”  I don’t know who said it first or if I should give it a footnote, but I do know that I did not create that line.  Furthermore, we all could explain what the phrase, a rose is a rose, means.

However, if I say, “a pain is not a pain,” the reader may not be too sure what I mean by that.  And if the reader is unsure, he or she does not know whether to agree with me or say balderdash!  So let me explain it by some development.

For sure, every adult knows what pain means.  It is difficult to imagine living into adulthood and not experiencing some kind of pain.  There is physical pain; we all know this.  There is emotional pain----a pain many people know all too well…and others may barely know.  There may be something like spiritual pain, but this one is tricky.  Not …

Spiritual Commitment

I was reading along in a very nice little book and hit these lines about commitment.The author, Mitch Albom, uses the voice of one of the main characters of his nonfiction book about faith to reflect on commitment.The voice belongs to Albom’s old rabbi of the Jewish synagogue where he went until his college days.The old rabbi, Albert Lewis, says “the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.”
The rabbi continues in a way that surely would have many people saying, “Amen!”About commitment he says, “I’m old enough when it used to be a positive.A committed person was someone to be admired.He was loyal and steady.Now a commitment is something you avoid.You don’t want to tie yourself down.”I also think I am old enough to know that commitment was usually a positive word.I can think of a range of situations in which commitment would have been seen to be positive.
For example, growing up was full of sports for me.Commitment would have been presupposed to be part of a team. If you were going to pl…