One of my favorite things that came out of the Reformation was a renewed interest in and discussion of adiaphora. Yes, adiaphora, those cute little creatures that are neither essential nor exceptionally important but in which there is Christian liberty.
A few of the things that St. Paul lists as adiaphorous are: food and vegetarianism; days of fasting (this was the consensus of the church Fathers’ on the meaning of the observance of days, sandwiched, as it is, between 2 discussions of food); and food offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8).
A few of my favorite adiaphorous things are: lid up or lid down; toilet paper roll over or under; room temperature; whose slice of cake is bigger; who’s more popular; who’s cuter; which Monopoly piece I get to be; Who moved the remote?; and who started the argument.
The truth is that there are very few things in life that truly matter or which are what we could say are essential. I challenge you to stop and write down your own list. So far, here’s what I’ve come up with: God and people. The vast majority of our important daily decisions involve one thing: the people around us. This doesn’t mean that everything else is unimportant, but most of these things are subordinate.
For example, the number one thing that couples argue about is money. Money is certainly an important thing, but so many of the arguments about money are either about adiaphorous things or they simply involve a sinful spending beyond one’s means.
Here’s a better challenge: spend a day, or better a week, and write down all the things that aggravate you during that time. Don’t try to do it too much after the fact, or you may remember only the large things. Write down all the times you cursed under your breath because somebody cut you off on the road or you had to stop at a red light. Count all the times you had to pay bills or eat food that wasn’t your favorite or felt stupid or inferior.
Now examine these things that so aggravated you. How many of them were still important the next day? The next week? How many of them were over essential things? Important things? Adiaphorous things?
Ironically, a discussion of adiaphorous things is an important thing, because, as Alexander Pope observed: “What mighty contests arise from such trivial things.” When we allow ourselves to argue and quarrel and strive over adiaphorous things, the truth is that we are not acting out of love but out of pride. In pursuing our own adiaphorous things to the hurt of another, we are acting contrary to God and His love and according to the Old Man, who we are to put to death. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:14).
Even if I were to always be the one to have to put the toilet seat in its proper place and take the smaller piece of cake – so what? These problems, and most of our problems, are created by our abundance and wealth. On a mission trip to Belize I saw one of the poorest places on earth today: the San Mateo district of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. The people there never argue about toilet paper or toilet seats or cake – because they don’t have them!
Spend a few minutes today choosing to consider what’s truly important and gaze intently at it. When the many adiaphorous things rush at you, demanding to rule your life: don’t abdicate so quickly. Instead, allow the royal law of love, and the One who is Love, to rule in your hearts richly.
Prayer: Ah Lord God, Thou holy lover of my Soul, when Thou comest into my Soul, all that is within me shall rejoice. Thou art my Glory and the exultation of my heart. Thou art my Hope and Refuge in the day of my trouble.
Set me free from all evil passions, and heal my heart of all inordinate affections, that being cured and thoroughly cleansed, may I be made fit to love, courageous to suffer, steady to persevere. Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing more courageous, nothing fuller or better in heaven and earth; because Love is born of God, and cannot rest but in God, above all created things.
Let me love Thee more than myself, let me love others as Thou wouldst have me do, let all I do show that I truly love Thee, as the law of Love commandeth, shining out from Thyself. Amen. (Thomas a Kempis)
Points for Meditation:
- Write down all of the things that aggravate you today. At the end of the day, examine them to see how important they were.
- How can you practice not caring so much about indifferent things? Come up with a creative way to give them up and focus instead on what is truly important.
Resolve: I resolve to spend today giving up my indifferent things as a sacrifice to the Lord.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson