Taking no thought for tomorrow…

One of the tensions that comes with living and leadership (whether leading a classroom or a family, a church or a company) is that you need to be thinking about tomorrow.  “Where is this ship headed?” is one of the primary questions that leaders need to be asking, and it forces them to think about tomorrow, and even the day, or year, or decade, after that.

Then along comes Jesus, and as he turns the gaze of the crowd towards the birds he says, “Look at these little creatures.  They’re not worried about what they’re going to eat or wear, not worried about productivity reports or GDP growth.  In fact, they’re not worried about anything, so content are they to rest in their confidence of God’s provision.  He continues by saying, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.  God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:34 – ‘The Message’)

Too often, though, this is interpreted as a calling to pursue some sort of zen emptiness as, for example, in another book I’m reading, which says:  Every moment we are wondering at the path of wind across the water or smiling to see a dog rest in the sun, we are not rehearsing our misfortunes.  I’m all for looking at my trees, and pondering the path of the ducks at the lake, but I think Jesus isn’t telling us to perpetually drop out.  So what is He saying?

The answers come to me from climbing.  I was able to get out on real rock recently for the first time since a late fall ski injury.  (pics here) My son, along with two other friends, went climbing.  To be out on the rock is to be reminded of what it means to live in the present moment.  I was able to lead climb a short and simple little face of rock and when one is leading, one isn’t thinking about yesterday’s failure, or the drive up, or the pretty birds.  One

the next move

is thinking about this: “What’s the next move? How can I stay balanced while moving my left foot?  Shall I jam my hand in that crack, or reach for the little pocket in the rock?”  There’s nothing but the present – but the present is nothing more than an endless succession of ‘steps’ and then ‘what’s next’, all of which are leading to the goal.

I love this about climbing.  While doing some other activities, I too often brood, thinking through lists of failures and concerns and if the run is long enough, I’ll think up a few potential worries that aren’t even real yet, a list of “what if’s” that leaves my mind aching as much as my joints.  I’m prone to this in real life as well sometimes, what I call, “poisonous introspection.”  But when I’m climbing, I’m utterly present, and that’s the kind of person I need to be in real life as well.  Somehow, that capacity to be present is lost on as, as cataloged in the book, “Distracted” and evidenced by our increasingly short attention span and openness to interruption.  We need to swim upstream against these tendencies, and I’m profoundly grateful that I still enjoy enough health to do that, because in climbing, like in real life, I need to:

1. Know the goal for which I’m heading - This is why I like to take some time out periodically and prayerfully consider whether I’m climbing the right mountain.  My wife and I talk about where our marriage is heading.  Our staff and church council will meet in the fall to ponder “where is our church heading?”

2. Climb – The top of the rock is the goal, so.  1) put on climbing shoes, 2) put on harness, 3) check that harness is secured properly 4) attach carabiner, 5) tie figure eight note in rope, 6) attach rope to carabiner, 7) check that carabiner is locked 8) talk to belayer 9) ponder route on rock, 10) do first move, 11) look ahead, 12) do next move. 13) repeat 11 and 12 until you’re done. This isn’t climbing.  This is life.  When I’m in the zone, I’m so focused on the present that time disappears, along with worries, regrets, and fears.

Living fully in the present, then, doesn’t mean disengaging from life, or blowing up all your goals.  It means knowing the goal, knowing the steps, taking them, and continuing to live, picking yourself up with mercy and forgiveness when you fall, rejoicing when you don’t, and finding the wholeness and fruitfulness that only comes when the gift of the present overtakes the shadowy inner voices that too often paralyze.

The present is the best gift we have, which is why learning to live in it is so important.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Danika Coolely

    I LOVE this!
    The Lord showed me through my battle with breast cancer, that although hard times come, each and every day is THE day that HE has made! I learned to rejoice and be glad even in the midst of pain and suffering. As I have celebrated being a one year survivor, I still wake up each day praising God for making it. Worrying about the future is counterproductive in that is steals from the present. It also lends itself to arrogance in that only God knows the number of my days. So my wondering and fretting about whether I will be here to watching my 6 kids grow into adulthood causes me to miss the here and now, and causes me to miss opportunites to mold these precious young ones with the time that is given to me!
    Blessed be the name of the Lord!

  • sp

    nice. thanks Richard. love it!

  • Jim A.

    As I posted on August 3rd, events occur in life for which no amount of goal setting and/or planning can prepare you. Living in the present is a great idea; reducing the stress of constant goal setting, planning, to do lists, strategy sessions, and the like. However, if you have spent a lifetime goal setting and planning it is difficult to achieve. You must work at it.

    We are not intending to disengage; in fact we are starting a new life adventure. But when the commercial lenders call and inquire about my plans for repaying the project loans I am learning to tell them that I am living in the present and have no plans. They don’t think I’m funny. I tell them that I am a developer and in this economy there is very little that is funny. “Perspective” is a word we ALL must keep in mind.

    In September we will provide meals for Tent City. Trade places? Each person there had dreams, plans and goals and I will bet those did not include being unemployed and living in a tent as fall approached. We need to be FULLY engaged in the present and put the fear of the future aside. Extremely hard to do, but God will provide. We must have faith.

  • Paula Miner

    Thank you for writing these words for God to use to speak to me!

  • Pam

    I hope you are not criticizing Kathleen Dean Moore’s writing because she is one of the most insightful
    women I have read. That comment does not imply a “pursuit of zen emptiness” or “dropping out”.
    The essay you quote is about her struggle to stay positive in a time of sorrow. The full passage you
    quote from is “But how do you keep the bad stuff from lodging in every corner of your mind, I asked
    Hank. Pay attention to the present moment he said……..Every moment we are glad for the twilight
    of morning, we are not vexed. It is impossible to be at the same time grateful and spiteful.”
    Such wise words for all of us who struggle with the negativity in our society and around us.
    Such a great reminder to focus on the positive. If you have not finished this book, keep reading, it has so much to offer.

    • raincitypastor

      I love her book… just noting that some notions of enlightenment call for emptiness more than fulness.

  • Pam

    Thanks, for your response. I am glad you love her book. Her other books are excellent too.
    I should have added in my previous post that I am a faithful reader of your blog and have read
    02 several times, including reading it as part of a women’s Bible Study. I am looking forward to your
    next book!

  • http://www.sharonandtyler.wordpress.com Sharon

    I love this post! I realized just last week that in order for me to reach my next “level” of climbing (as in, real rock climbing) i need to stop hesitating on the wall and just make the next move. The hesitation causes me to waste energy, then muscles get tired, motivation wanes, and I can’t complete the routes. The same is true in life. I love the positive reminder!


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