Compromise isn't always the answer

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

A plot of government-owned land came on the market in my hometown, and it caught the attention of a couple of local groups.

Senior residents want a place to call their own, so they hoped the town would purchase the property and build a center exclusively for seniors. Parents in the community said local teenagers needed a safe place to congregate, so they wanted to see a teen center constructed just for them. A town official suggested a compromise - a community center, with one section for teens, one for seniors, and the rest available to everyone else.

Sometimes finding a middle ground is the answer. At other times it may be the heart of the problem.

Consider one of the instructions given by Jesus in his most famous discourse, the Sermon on the Mount. At one point he makes a simple but uncompromising statement: "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24). The masters are God (Spirit) and mammon (material riches). He doesn't say that it's hard to serve both, but that it can't be done, as if to warn his students that they'll only run into problems if they think they can find some happy medium between serving Spirit and material things.

Let's say there is some long- standing problem in your life that you've tried to solve but haven't. Maybe it's worth taking a closer look at this statement, and asking if more closely following its guidance is what's needed to break the impasse. Is it possible to live a kind of semispiritual, semimaterial life? Are the two compatible?

It might seem so. Yet the spiritual side of the equation has things going for it that the material side doesn't have, and will never have.

For instance, Spirit isn't just long-lasting; it's forever. Material things are not. Spirit is infinite, everywhere, while matter is limited in time, quantity, and place. Spiritual things such as wisdom, inspiration, love, creativity, and goodness make for a happier and healthier life, whereas material things promise a lot more good than they deliver.

One could go so far as to say that material things and spiritual things don't cooperate at all. There isn't any harmony between the two. No middle ground, really. Either we believe that inspiration has its source in the Divine, or that it comes from, say, a cup of coffee. It can't have two origins - matter and Spirit - regardless of what we imagine to the contrary. Either we believe that a healthy body largely depends on a particular physical regimen we put ourselves through and the material nutrients we take in, or that health improves as our thoughts blend with Spirit and we take in a more spiritual sense of life. How can health be sustained by both matter, which doesn't last, and Spirit, which does? The two don't mix.

As radical as Jesus' instruction seems in the context of living in a material world, could it be just the rule one needs to follow in order to break the deadlock of some unsolved problem? Perhaps without realizing it, we've tried to straddle that middle ground, expecting Spirit and matter to cooperate in our life. Maybe we've been praying for spiritual help while at the same time thinking of ourselves as a flesh-and-bones being that needs Spirit to do something with matter in order to have that help.

But looking at something else Jesus said in his sermon indicates a very different way to see ourselves, based on our relation to Spirit. "Be ye therefore perfect," Jesus said, "even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Again he is uncompromising - be perfect he says - which suggests a shift in the object of prayer, from wanting Spirit to work with matter in order to make things better, to wanting a higher sense of ourselves as already the flawless creation of a perfect Creator.

To steer our problem-solving energies in this direction - to become better acquainted with ourselves as belonging only to Spirit and not tied to matter - ends the standstill with unsolved problems. "The foundation of mortal discord is a false sense of man's origin," wrote Mary Baker Eddy in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," indicating that the solution to discord is in becoming more familiar with our Maker, with Spirit, the provider of the only life there is.

Isn't that what serving only God and His creation is all about? It isn't looking for middle ground, but rather finding common ground.

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