As part of my ongoing Secular Franciscan formation, I was asked to consider how one balances constant values (also called unchangeable principles) with ongoing adaptations (or changeable applications). And then I was asked about my own experiences.
Constant values in life include such things as honesty, fairness, respect for others' property, putting God first, etc. At the simplest level, following the Ten Commandments.
From a Franciscan perspective, that means the above, but also "living the Gospel of Jesus Christ," simple life-style, penance, and so on.
The hard part can be the application.
Thou shalt not kill - well that's pretty straight forward. Few of us kill another person. But when we push further, that includes all acts of violence against others, physical, verbal, psychological.
Gossip. Sarcasm. Exaggerating. Insults. The silent treatment. I'm guilty of those and more.
We can't always predict how we will will be challenged.
There's no rule book on stealing, for example, that touches on every single situation. It's pretty easy to understand that shoplifting is wrong. But taking home office supplies? Using the work-place computer to do our Christmas shopping or our child's school report? Hanging out with co-workers to talk about last night's game instead of getting that report done? Talking to a friend on a phone while a customer is waiting to be served?
My understanding of all this is that we need to have the basic principles in place. We need to practice them constantly. We need to thoughtfully and prayerfully apply them as situations come up - when we have the luxury of time. And even in those instances in which we need to make a quick decision, hopefully we will have built up the habit of doing the right thing so that our instinctive reaction is to do what is right. That doesn't mean we won't make mistakes or judge incorrectly. But then we can learn from that and the next time maybe not make a mistake, or we'll be stronger so that when a new situation comes up we'll be more likely to make the right decision.
It's a matter of developing the habit of living according to these basic principles as best we can so that we can apply them in changeable circumstances.
One other thing I've realized is that as we progress, as our understanding grows, our eyes are opened. What 10 years ago may not have occurred to us was wrong we now realize was indeed wrong. And things we are doing now that we don't realize are wrong we may in 10 years see for what they are.
It's an ongoing process. One doesn't just convert and it's all over. Conversion is a day-by-day, hour-by hour, minute-by-minute process. It's a process we would not have the strength to continue if not for the grace of God.