(Good Wednesday to you – My wife Donna and I have just returned from three days of hiking in the Alps, blissfully internet free. In my absence, my friend Ian has offered a guest post about the importance of living in the present – while you read, I’ll go enjoy some Schnitzel, and plan on sharing about tomorrow about lessons learned in the Alps)
The instant gratification that grew up out of consumerism was like a gateway drug, and it left many of us wanting more. So this culture turned its eyes towards the future, and we learned to fixate on the haze in the distance. Fear makes it even worse. The news piles on dire projections and grim speculation. Politicians and pundits tirelessly blame the other side. The downsizing of corporate America continues. Reasonable people ask “where will all of this leave me?” In response, we can become consumed by a quest to find a more secure professional trajectory, or work too hard in order to bolster the savings account, or spend more time and money than we should just to turn the kitchen pantry into an impenetrable stockpile of soup and deodorant. Though there seem to be endless versions of what our impending doom will look like, many have agreed that chasing the future is the best and only response. Where does this lead?
1. We miss the present when we become infatuated with the future
By moving beyond the normal responsibilities of daily life (which has understandable implications for our future) towards something more like a full-time preoccupation with what has not yet occurred, we miss the sweetness of living now. Jesus acknowledged the future and even found it worthy of discussion, from predicting his death to warning his followers about coming persecution. But I don’t see in the Gospel record a Jesus who was obsessed with the future to the point that He missed the here and now. Instead, Jesus appeared to be pliable at times. He allowed others to notice him and he in turn noticed others. He made contact. He had an improvisational quality to his interaction with people, and that is something that comes from having eyes fixed on what’s directly in front. Jesus fed and healed; things that addressed immediate needs rather than future schemes.
2. Future-mindedness leads to pride, but the present keeps us humble
We are often at the center of our plans for what’s next, and in these ideas we are something close to perfect. These visions get sanitized, removing the human elements and the brokenness of ourselves and others. Then we tell ourselves it can not be legitimate life or ministry unless it’s adventurous, rewarding, and above all- financially secure. The danger of this is a growing disinterest in the complicated reality of lives that are available now.
Where does this kind of thinking leave those who are caught in the pursuit of some lofty plan or persona? We are reduced to small talk and worn out phrases. We hug instead of hold. We look away. We manage people rather than investing in them. We leverage others for our gain. We smile nicely while plotting our eventual escape to a private island or a house in the hills. We say “maybe next time” way too often. This is the bland fruit of people hypnotized by the fantasy of tomorrow.
The present is ordinary, and it often lacks excitement. But today is the place where you’ll find God’s garden, and it’s growing at this very minute. In the present, we are who we are. The people around us know this, and invite us closer anyways. So does God, who loved us despite our sin, and continues to pursue us through our blind spots. And we can be about the tasks of God, whether big or small, without waiting for the perfection of self or circumstance to arrive.
3. Living in the present is worship, too
Ministry is not the only opportunity that is already all around us. I believe that we participate in worship when we surrender portions of our busy life and enter a moment instead. It’s worship when we stop for an extra second on the street corner, and let the sun coat us in light instead of rushing to the next requirement. It’s worship when we follow our spouse into the bedroom rather than stopping the moment to discuss the upcoming weeks all over again. It’s worship when we stay at the dinner table just a few minutes longer so that our kids can tell another story, even though the bills are waiting to be paid. It’s worship when we push through the worry of the day by deciding to thank God for his goodness and then turn up a great song afterward.
Tomorrow doesn’t exist. We understand this intellectually, but we forget it all too often. In a culture running after the future and freaked out about it at the same time, it is an act of bold faith just to slow down enough to be human and present today. And Jesus is waiting for us there, with good things in mind.
Ian Ebright is a former film critic who now writes about faith, life, culture and human rights. You can read more by visiting his site The Broken Telegraph here, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.