“All philosophy lies in two words: sustain and abstain” (Epictetus).
EPICTETUS MAY HAVE OVERSTATED THE CASE, BUT “SUSTENANCE” AND “ABSTINENCE” ARE CERTAINLY FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPTS. Many of the questions we deal with daily are those that ask (1) what we need to live in this world, and (2) what the things are that we should refrain from. When we’ve identified both what we need more of and what we need less of, we will have addressed two of life’s most significant problems. Dealing wisely with these is not easy.
Before we talk about receiving sustenance, however, let’s think briefly about giving it. If it is “more blessed to give than to receive,” that is certainly true of sustenance. Each of us is in a position to help someone (and maybe many people) be sustained and have what they need. We have it within our power to nourish others, support them, and help them keep going. And the joy of providing sustenance is so great, the wonder is that we don’t do it more often.
But we ourselves also need sustenance. And while it may threaten our pride, there will be times when the things we need will have to come from some of our fellow human beings. Not a single one of us is completely self-sufficient — we did not get where we are without the help of other people. We should openly acknowledge this fact and be eager to show our appreciation to the many “sustainers” around us.
We should not underestimate how much sustenance is required for us to get by in this world. We need many different things from many different sources. The most obvious needs are those of a physical nature, but that is just the start. We also have emotional needs, social needs, and many others. All these kinds of sustenance come from somewhere. Do we take the sources for granted?
Far beyond our other needs, however, is our need for our Creator. Spiritual sustenance may not be something we think about very often, but we need it nevertheless. And just as in other areas where we have to be sustained, we should not underestimate what our spirits need, nor the Source from which that sustenance must ultimately come.
“As our bodies live upon the earth and find sustenance in the fruits which it produces, so our minds feed on the same truths as the intelligible and immutable substance the divine Word contains” (Nicolas Malebranche).