The book "One Red Paperclip" tells the story of a man who feels stuck. Unable to find meaningful work and frustrated that his girlfriend has to help pay his bills, he devises an unusual plan to get ahead.
Finding a red paperclip on his desk, Kyle MacDonald posts an online message, offering to trade it for something slightly better. His plan is to make a series of upward trades that will take him all the way from a paperclip to a house.
In his humorous and thought-provoking book, Mr. MacDonald explains how he accomplishes his goal. The red paperclip goes for a pen shaped like a fish. That is swapped for a doorknob and then a camp stove. He always trades up for something better. Fourteen trades later, MacDonald is signing papers for a house in Canada.
This popular true story got me to thinking about other possibilities. For instance, what happens when we trade incorrect assumptions about life as based on material goals and living for spiritual ideas of worth and substance? Of course, this kind of trade doesn't mean switching things or even thoughts with other people. It's something that happens within ourselves as we turn to God and seek divine insight into a deeper understanding of our Creator and of ourselves as His children.
It's like giving up the spot we're standing on for a higher rung on a ladder so that we can see farther and more accurately. And like the rung on the ladder or the trades in "One Red Paperclip," each step of spiritual progress is an attainable, reasonable forward movement and not a drastic and dangerous leap.
Many of the people who followed Jesus experienced this kind of spiritual transformation. Zacchaeus, a tax collector with a penchant for taking more than was owed, changed his attitude and lifestyle after meeting Jesus.
A short, unpopular man, he climbed a tree for a superior view as Jesus walked by with a crowd of people. With what appears to be eagerness for the redeeming Christ message, he waited and watched. What happened next indicates that he was ready to trade up for a higher view of himself as God's child.
Recognizing his sincerity, Jesus called to him. Zacchaeus scrambled down. He promised to correct any dishonest activity and start life again with more integrity. He'd be a better friend, neighbor, and tax collector.
We can do this kind of trading up. It's like climbing the tree for a clearer view and then acting on what we discover. Each step of spiritual progress is an attainable, reasonable forward movement and not a drastic and irresponsible leap. As we make these changes, our lives improve and so do the lives of those around us.
Recalling her own spiritual maturation, Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "I had learned that thought must be spiritualized, in order to apprehend Spirit. It must become honest, unselfish, and pure, in order to have the least understanding of God in divine Science…. Our reliance upon material things must be transferred to a perception of and dependence on spiritual things" ("Retrospection and Introspection," p. 28).
Spiritual things, or the things of Spirit, are those qualities of thought and life that connect us to God. When we are more loving, more genuine, more resolute, we are living Spirit's goodness. We are proving that God is a transforming, palpable presence in our lives.
While human beliefs can change, this kind of character growth and spiritual development is permanent. We can't lose what we've gained when progress has trust in God as its foundation. And seeking this kind of change is a practical way to live. Not only are we more satisfied, but we bring a healing touch to the lives of others.
Right now we can each trade up to something better. Our starting place is simple: an open and willing heart, ready to exchange false conceptions of materiality for God's love and guidance.