For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not. (2 Corinthians 8:12)
One temptation in the spiritual life is to understand perfection to mean you do everything perfectly right and then to decide that anything less than perfect is utter failure. This “all or nothing” spirituality shows itself in people who start out to keep Great Lent perfectly, but then falter along the way and give up on the whole enterprise thinking if I can’t keep it all, why try to do anything? The same thing happens with people who set up for themselves a demanding spiritual discipline or prayer life and soon cannot keep to their high standards and so decide to abandon the spiritual life altogether.
Additionally, it is not the one who begins the race but who never finishes it who wins the prize. So beginning any spiritual endeavor with zeal and the mind toward perfection but then abandoning the effort because of a failure along the way is worse than beginning the race with only moderate effort but then persevering to the end.
Between everything and nothing there is a lot of middle ground, and there are many stories and lessons in the lives of the Fathers to support that point. The desert fathers knew that Jesus commanded us to practice charity and hospitality. Yet some of the monks struggled in subsistence level conditions and had little to give to others. Rather than advocating all or nothing, the spiritual advice is to keep at the spiritual life and do the best you can, fulfilling as much of the Gospel as you can, but not worrying about what you can’t do. Here are two from monastic fathers, adpated from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2) :
“And if you art unable to give alms of your work at least supply all your needs by your own hands.” (Kindle Loc. 3156-57)
If you can’t earn enough to be able to give charity, at least earn enough so you don’t have to beg from others. There is a wisdom here to help the struggling Christian who may feel the demands of the Faith are more than he or she can do daily. The wisdom response is do what you can. A second example on the same theme of charity:
A brother asked Abba Joseph, saying, “What shall I do? For I cannot be disgraced, and I cannot work, and I have nothing from which to give alms.” The old man said unto him, ” If you can not do these things, keep your conscience from your neighbor, and guard yourself carefully against evil of every kind, and you shall live; for God desires that the soul shall be without sin.” (Kindle Loc. 1465-68)
As with many of the desert father stories, they are short and so leave out some details. In the story above it appears that the one monk is ill or injured and so cannot work and thus cannot give alms. Should he quit being a monk? No, he is advised to continue on doing the things he can do – be a good neighbor, not nosey, not a gossip, and don’t do any evil yourself. Even if you cannot practice charity because you haven’t anything to give, you can still be a Christian by following other teachings of Christ. All or nothing doesn’t work. There is no one shoe size for all. Each of us has to work out our own salvation. Do you know how Christ loves you? Then love others as you have been loved.
… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life… (Philippians 2:12-16)