The Four Agreements: Always Do Your Best

January 31, 2016


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Jan. 31, 2015

“The 4 Agreements – Always Do Your Best”
Luke 17: 20-21

“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Luke 17:20-21

We get so tired of life sometimes that we create an image of what happens when we die and are free from this life. We imagine that there is a heaven somewhere up there – a place of ultimate love and hope and freedom. A place where life is easy. This is a dilemma of the human condition. When asked about it, Jesus told the people that it was not coming in the future, but that it is among us now. It is already present within and around us.

There was once a man who wanted to transcend the hardships of this life. He went to a Buddhist temple to find a Master to help him. He went to the Master and asked, “Master, if I meditate four hours a day, how long will it take me to be free?”

The Master looked at him and said, “If you meditate four hours a day, seven days a week, perhaps you will be free in ten years.”

Thinking that perhaps he could speed it up a bit and do better, the man then asked, “Oh, Master, what if I meditated eight hours a day, how long until I am free?”

The Master looked at him again and said, “If you meditate eight hours a day, perhaps you will transcend the hardships of this life in twenty years.”

“But why will it take me longer if I meditate more?” the man asked. The Master replied, “You are not here to sacrifice your joy or your life. You are here to live, to be happy, and to love. If you can do your best in two hours of meditation, buy you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life. Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love, and be happy.”

We’ve been talking the last month about the 4 Agreements, and following the book by the same name. Each week we’ve talked about a principle, or an agreement, in the book:
• Be Impeccable with Your Word – this is not simply doing what you say you will, but choosing your words and your thoughts carefully.
• Don’t Take Anything Personally – because we tend to take what others say to heart, but it really isn’t about us.
• Don’t Make Assumptions – rather ask questions to get information.
• Always do Your Best – this is today’s topic.

Don Miguel Ruiz teaches these Toltec principles and today we wrap up this sermon series. He says that the 4th agreement – Always Do Your Best – allows the other three principles to become deeply ingrained habits in our lives.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words “Always Do Your Best”, it sounds in my head a little like my parents voices speaking to me as a child. And when I hear those voices, I also hear a little tinge of guilt built in. But Ruiz approaches this principle from a different point of view.

He encourages us to always do our best – no more and no less. And he acknowledges that our best may be different from one moment to the next. Because our world and our lives are ever changing, our best will sometimes be high quality, but other times it may not be as good. This is not a point of guilt or self- degradation. When we wake up and start a new day with energy and a positive spirit, our best will be better than when we have been at it all day long and we are tired late at night. Our best will vary according to many factors. The point is… regardless of the quality of what we have to offer, we must continue to do the best.

If we try too hard to do more than our best, we will spend more energy than is needed. Our bodies get depleted and we subject ourselves to frustration, self-judgment, guilt and regrets. That’s why it is important (especially for this room full of over-achievers) to offer our best – and not try to do more than our best. Ruiz explains that when we do our best, we are productive and we are good to ourselves at the same time.

The point of doing our best, however, is not to get reward. Often, we offer our best because we expect a return on that investment. Some of us go to work every day knowing that if we do our best, we will get a paycheck and a day or two off at the end of the week. When we do this, we are working for a reward, but not necessarily doing our best.

On the other hand, if we do things just for the sake of doing our best, without expecting anything in response, we will find more joy in everything. Rewards may come, but our action is not attached to the reward.

Ruiz also points out that when we do our best, we learn to accept ourselves. Our goal is no longer to please someone who might judge us, or doing things so that we look good. Instead, when we offer our best just for the pleasure of doing it, we are free to enjoy the activity just for the sake of doing it.

Remember the movie Forrest Gump? He wasn’t a man full of good ideas or even great intelligence. But his mother had taught him to do his best at whatever he did. Whether it was fighting a war or running across the country or speaking about his life, Forrest found happiness in it because he offered his best. He ended up being rewarded, but he didn’t expect any reward at all. Forrest lived his life fully and he found joy in the process of it.

I love this quote from Ruiz: “God is life. God is life in action. The best way to say, ‘I love you, God,’ is to live your life doing your best. The best way to say, ‘Thank you God,’ is by letting go of the past and living in the present moment, right here and now. Whatever life takes away from you, let it go. You were born with the right to be happy. You were born with the right to love, to enjoy and share your love. You are alive, so take your life and enjoy it. Don’t resist life passing through you, because that is God passing through you. Just your existence proves the existence of God.”

You don’t need knowledge or great philosophical concepts to do your best – just be the one God created you to be and that is your best. Did you ever wonder why that great Army recruitment slogan “Be All You Can Be. Join the Army.” resonated with so many people? It was the Army’s slogan for 21 years and people still know it today. This phrase inspired people to do the very best they could, and to serve their country while doing it. It’s a motto that doesn’t require everyone to become doctors or generals or astronauts or best-selling authors (though some will), but it does demand that we embrace our individual destiny. It insists we take our unique gifts and talents, add our hard work and dedication, and we can all rise to our very best, to further the larger story, pass along a greater legacy, and fulfill our part in life’s ultimate design.

That’s a brilliant slogan, and it resonates within us even today. Be All You Can Be. Always Do Your Best.

The 4 Agreement book ends with a discussion about freedom. All around the world different people, different races, and different countries are fighting for freedom. Our Presidential candidates throw the word around like we all know what it means. But are we really free? Ruiz says no, we are not free. He contends that freedom has to do with the human spirit – and that it is the freedom to be who we really are.

Who stops us from being free? We find all kinds of groups and people to blame – the government, the weather, our parents, religion, and we even blame God. Who really stops us from being free? We stop ourselves. When we are young children, we are free because we can do what we want without fear. When we are children, we don’t worry about the past, aren’t thinking much about the future, are free to express our feelings, and know how to love without fear.

As adults, we allow guilt, worry, the past, and our belief systems to overshadow who we really are. Ruiz suggest that the real person inside us is still a little child who comes out to play occasionally and is free when we paint, or write, or play the piano, or express ourselves in some way.

But most of the time we are doing things to please others, or out of guilt, or trying to be accepted by others, rather than living our lives in freedom. The freedom we seek is to use our own mind and body, to live our own lives, instead of the life of guilt, hurt, and compromise.

It is time to forget all the things that hold us back from truly being who God intended us to be. Just imagine that you have the ability to shake off those voices of shoulda, coulda, and woulda. Imagine that you have the ability to see the world with different eyes. See yourself living a new life, a new dream, a life where you don’t need to justify your existence and you are free to be who you really are.
• Imagine that you have permission to be happy and to really enjoy life.
• Imagine living your life without the fear of being judged by others.
• Imagine no longer being responsible for anyone else’s opinions.
• Imagine living your life without judging others.
• Imagine letting go of any judgments you have about yourself and others.
• Imagine living without the fear of loving and not being loved.
• Imagine living your life without being afraid to take a risk and explore your life fully.
• Imagine loving yourself just the way you are.

This kind of imagining and living in freedom is what Jesus called grace. And it is entirely possible! Two thousand years ago, Jesus told us about the kindom of heaven. It is a place of ultimate love and acceptance. Hardly anyone in his time was ready to hear his teaching. It’s still a struggle today.

Moses called it the Promised Land. Buddha called it Nirvana. Jesus called it Heaven. The Toltecs call it a New Dream.

Let’s all take a moment to realize that the opportunity is here and now. We can choose to live in this freedom by loving ourselves. We can thank God for the gift of life and grace. A good place to start anew is to work on these 4 agreements:
1. Be impeccable with your word. What you say to yourself in your mind and to others with your lips either frees or traps you.
2. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t fall into the trap where your freedom is limited by what others say and do. The world is not all about you.
3. Don’t make assumptions. Live in the freedom of knowing the truth.
4. Always do your best. You are God’s own, full of grace and love. Let that be your very self. And you will be free.