A lesson for my life for several years has been - learning to live: present. Personally, it seems so easy to vacillate between the past and the future, but to stay firmly in the present, that is hard. Our culture easily embeds us in this swinging pendulum: Facebook asks us to continually share what just happened in the past (and often to highlight only the good of those moments). Our smartphones alert us to what is to come. We have calendars full of events a year in the future. We can set reminders that alert us to what will happen in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 5 minutes and more. Even with all these reminders, I often find myself walking around with the feeling that I am forgetting something, something important.
But I often find that I haven't forgotten anything, except, perhaps to enjoy the present moment. Perhaps, enjoying the present moment is an element of childlike faith? Why? Because it is something I see my children do all the time. They do not worry about the past nor the future. They play, they laugh, they enjoy, they get annoyed, they shake it off and play and laugh again.
Because being present is no longer natural for me, I've had to become intentional about pursuing it. Here are some things that have helped me over the years to realign myself to the present:
- Understanding more about God: Through the years, I've had to learn to let go of the neurotic feeling that God was standing somewhere beyond me, tapping His foot waiting for me to get there, so that when (if) I arrived we could move forward together. For many years, the voices that surrounded me, held out a carrot saying that tomorrow was better with God. Tomorrow I would be holier, tomorrow I would be more peaceful, tomorrow there would be more joy. Well, I suppose, I am more peaceful, holier and joyful than I used to be but it didn't happen by continually chasing tomorrow. It happened when I woke up to the fact that He is with me TODAY, no matter where TODAY places me. It happened when I realized that He is in charge of His Kingdom (not I) and that He has invited me to be a collaborator with Him in the Kingdom.
- Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
- The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
- Henri Nouwen, "Wherever I am, at home, in a hotel, in a train, plane, airport, I would not feel irritated, restless, and desirous of being somewhere else or doing something else. I would know that here and now is what counts and is important because it is God himself who wants me in this time and place. (Monk Habits for Everyday Life by Dennis Okholm from chapter 8: Staying Put to Get Somewhere)"
- C.S. Lewis: The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them for eternity. He therefore wants them to attend chiefly to two things - to eternity itself and to that point of time which they call the present. For the present is the point at which time touches eternity. Our business, as demons is to get them away from the eternal and the present.It's far better to make them live in the future, all their passions point in that direction. The thought about the future inflames hope and fear. It is also unknown to them so that making them think about it will make them think of unrealities. In a word, the future is of all things the least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time - for the past is froze and no longer flows and the present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past, love to the present, fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead. (Screwtape Letters Letter 15)
Years ago I heard a sermon by Erwin McManus where he said something to the effect of, "If you need a vacation to enjoy your life, then you need a new life." This really struck me at the time, because I felt like I was in survival mode and that vacations, those one week, once a year things, was what I was surviving to live to make it to. In those obscure places, existed the ability to live in joy and freedom. His words awakened me to the fact that this wasn't what I needed to live for because God had indeed offered me life for today, in fact it was sufficient for every day.
So years later, I think it is working:
Common, everyday life is holy.
I find myself wondering where my phone is and realizing that I haven't touched it in over 3 hours. I find myself holding my kids, smelling their hair, looking at them in the eyes, laughing genuinely with them.
Living present, enjoying the gift of today.
I find myself finding joy in the small, monotonous everyday tasks of folding laundry, vacuuming, sweeping; not wishing those tasks away or seeing them as an inconvenience. I find myself enjoying work, recognizing that it is a holy task that allows me to partner with God in everyday life.
Because, this IS the day that the Lord has made.
I also find myself giving myself grace to be human: to be crabby, impatient, frustrated, grumpy - inviting God to lead me through the dark places that still exist within me.
So let us rejoice and be glad in it.