Sunday, October 9, 2011
Tools for the Journey #13 - All The Good You Can
Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
To all the people you can
In every place you can
At all the times you can
As long as ever you can
- John Wesley
The poem above is a precious and valued "tool" for myself and my family. It is one of the cornerstones of our family culture and indeed it is part of the ground we stand upon each day. This poem hangs framed on the wall in our living room as our family mantra and motto. As a parent I talk with my children often about what this poem means - and what it does not mean...because both points are important.
To misconstrue Mr. Wesley's message would be unfortunate, and some undoubtedly have done so.
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can...
On the surface this poem could be interpreted as giving all of oneself at all costs...but this is not my interpretation. From my eyes Mr. Wesley was referencing something deeper, he was speaking about "the place we come from" rather than "the place we are going" and this is a vital distinction. If "being of service" is foundational, if it is the place we come from then there is a nearly infinite reservoir to draw from, and as I give, as I exhale myself out to others I am not depleted. If undertaken in the proper way then in my acts of giving I am also "fed" and thus I am sustained and even renewed by these actions. Conversely, if doing all the good we can is "the place we are going" and it is not foundational then to my mind this is finite and we can easily become depleted and this is not truly being of service.
Another quote (author unknown) which goes to make clear my point is this:
Temples don't exist on the outside
One has to become a temple
And the only way to become a temple
Is to create in your interior
An immense gratitude
For all that has happened to you
For all that is happening to you
Your reserves then are incalculable, immeasurable.
So, Mr. Wesley's message, his call to action, if you will - can and should be endeavored but in order to do so we must also include ourselves in the equation. We must remember to "feed" ourselves as we endeavor to be of service to others. Sustainability is elemental, and in order to have sustainability we must work to understand the tools we receive on deeper levels...we must learn to have "new eyes" in order to see the various uses for our "tools" which may not be apparent at first glance.
If you were to take my children aside and ask them, "What is the one thing your mother says to you again and again every day?" - This is what they would tell you:
"Pay attention to the world around you."
He was using different words, but I believe Mr. Wesley was saying the same thing with his poem; in order to truly be of service one must become skilled at paying attention to the world around them.
Thus, with this daily "mantra" from their mama, and Mr. Wesley's lovely "tool", I feel confident my kids have two key pieces of how to live a happy, textured and meaningful life. If they carry with them the tools which I have passed on and they learn to recognize the tools which are uniquely their own, then no matter how long I live I know when I leave them they will be okay.
The value of any tool, any gift, is not found simply in relation to where or whom it came from as much as in how it lands in our heart and resonates with us on deeper levels no matter the source. Mr. Wesley's tool is an integral part of the fabric of my heart and it is one I endeavor to use on a daily basis in hopes of doing all the good I can while I am here.