Nurturing Elders: Practicing the Better

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A young man was the subject of this story.

But I have heard persons of all ages say virtually the same thing, and have to admit to a spiritual diet almost guaranteed to be malnourishing.

How you practice the better when it comes to your own spirit?


By The Rev. Paul Graves | Photos by Jesse N. Love, Wikipedia

One of the operating principles of Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation are these wise words: The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better! I’ve tried to live that way without having those words to remind me. Now I can’t get them out of my head (or heart).

I’m confident that if you are like most of us, you find plenty of reasons to criticize something or someone. We live in very grouchy times and at so many levels today. If it isn’t about getting older, it’s about our family or someone in our church, or politics at many levels…or something else entirely.

As I said, we live in grouchy times when it’s almost “the fashion” to complain. Our pains, real or imagined, radiate from our wounded spirits to whomever is in the way.

So how do you remind yourself there is so much more than transmitting your pain…or your suffering? Do you ever remind yourself to “practice the better”? What a concept for a Jesus-follower to consider!

We can so easily clench our fists in passive-aggressive frustration. Or we can unclench our fists to reach out to others in pain.

I receive an electronic newsletter called GraceTalks. It is written by Philip Gulley, a Quaker pastor from Indiana and an excellent storyteller. A recent meditation contained this story, one that brings great insight for a church person who wants to “practice the better”:

“I was talking with a young man a few weeks ago and he was complaining about his church and thought maybe he would start attending here. So I said to him, ‘Why don’t you like your church?’ He said, ‘I’m not being spiritually fed there.’ Have you ever heard someone say that? I’m not being “spiritually fed.” I hate that phrase with a red-hot intensity.

As soon as he said that…I asked him, ‘Well, are you eating more than once a week?’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ Well, if you’re only eating once a week, I can see why you wouldn’t be spiritually fed. What are you doing the rest of the week?’

Nothing, as it turned out, which explained his malnourishment. I don’t care how good a spiritual feast a church sets out on Sunday morning, if we only eat once a week, we’re going to be spiritually famished.

It made me think of spiritual sustenance, and I wondered to myself if he was reading good books, or helping others, or spending time in meditation, or praying, or discussing important matters, and thinking lofty thoughts.

Was he caring for the poor, or visiting the lonely? Was he spending time in nature, sharing meals with friends, devoting time to the people he loved, reading the Bible, associating with people who looked and thought differently from himself?

Did he have a passion for justice? Was he nurturing the next generation? Was he making it a point to be inspired by something grand and beautiful each day? Did he practice gentleness of heart and endeavor to live at peace with everyone?

Because I must say, everyone who does those things regularly and faithfully will never say, ‘I am not being spiritually fed.’ They will sit down daily at a spiritual feast.” (GraceTalks Newsletter, 3/3/17)

A young man was the subject of this story. But I have heard persons of all ages say virtually the same thing, and have to admit to a spiritual diet almost guaranteed to be malnourishing. Just a quick question to end this reflection: How you practice the better when it comes to your own spirit?


The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries.

Be sure to like “Older Adult Ministries of the PNW” on Facebook!

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