In a post from October 2012, I suggested that “being always flows from doing.” I stand corrected. I had the chance to learn under Dr. Richard Langer this week in what is my last residency for my D.Min at Biola University. In an article from the ‘Journal for Spiritual Formation’ he writes a few “Points of Unease with the Spiritual Formation Movement” where he sets out a concern about the language of pitting ‘being’ vs. ‘doing’ (which is what I did in my referenced post). Dr. Langer suggests the following:
“Our doing (action) creates our being (character) the way a river creates a canyon. Repeated action over time forms habits, and habits constitute dispositions to act in certain ways in certain circumstances. And finally, a disposition to act in certain ways in certain circumstances is just is what we mean by character. Our character is who we are, but it is the product of and the memorial to what we have habitually done. In fact, a virtue of the spiritual formation movement has been its emphasis on habitual action for shaping character.”
The deeper point that Langer is trying to make is that being and doing are so intimately connected that it is very difficult and perhaps unhelpful to draw to sharp of distinctions in our language. After all, doing certain things can shape our being every bit as much as being will effect our doing. His concern is that we fail to appreciate the value of both being and doing in shaping us. So, to prioritize being over doing as if being is more important in the hierarchy of “self” is a misunderstanding of character development.
By way of illustrations, Dr. Langer says, “marriage vows do not ask spouses to serve one another only when it is a natural outflow of their intimacy. This is certainly the hope of marriage, but the intention of marriage vows is that one act in certain ways even in the absence of feelings.” While it is an ideal situation that our being precedes our doing, it does not follow that our doing must always flow only from our being.
It seems like what we are concerned about when we point out a sharp distinction between being and doing is something deeper. First, we might be concerned about focusing on doing only. In other words, we are concerned about those who try to earn their way to God through doing certain practices (in violation of Ephesians 2:8-9). And, this is a valid concern. Second, we may be concerned about those who are not practicing surrender and dependence in their spiritual life. In other words, we might be concerned about those who think that it is their job to control and manipulate reality to evoke certain outcomes. However, our life in Christ is to be characterized by realizing that without Him we can do nothing (John 15). So, being (it appears) is just another way of describing an essential part of Christian character which is dependence on Christ. As Dallas Willard has pointed out, “grace is opposed to earning, not effort.” Dependence does not mean literally doing nothing, but realizing that we can only do anything (at least anything worth doing) by resting on the resources of Christ.
What difference does this make? A huge difference. One implication is that, if you want to shape your being, your best approach might be to “do” certain things. For example, if I am not (but want to be) humble, I might put in certain practices (doing) in my life that help train my heart to be humble. Second, recognizing how being and doing effect one another helps me understand myself better. It is impossible to separate out being and doing in any meaningful way. Think about it, what am I really “doing” when I am trying to “be?” I am doing certain things (or choosing not to do certain things). It’s impossible to practically separate them out. Third, I can recognize more accurately how to shape character and being as well as how to influence the actions/habits I don’t desire to have present in my life. So, discipleship will need to think deeply about the interwoven nature of being and doing (as well as knowing).
While it is helpful to talk about the difference between being and doing, may I stand corrected when I try to prioritize or too sharply distinguish between the two. After all, as Jesus had a more holistic view of life with God when he said we love Him with all our “heart, soul, mind and strength (or ability to do).”