-Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director
I had an epiphany last week. I do not live in the today.
Quite a revelation to someone who desires to live daily in the presence of God. Someone who strives to be present to people, and the situations that come up in each new day.
But in reality, I find that I often live in the future. Always looking ahead to the “someday.” Trying to patiently make it through the current day’s issues by planning for something the next day that gives me something to look forward to.
When I was a young girl, I was rather sickly, and often went to the doctor’s office for “shots.”. My mother, helping me to get over the fear, would dangle a treat in front of me. “After the doctor, we will stop and get…” Ice cream, a toy, shopping excursion. This tactic is beneficial in curtailing the dread of something painful by looking forward to something pleasant. It is a practice I continue to this day. I taught this to my children, and it is very effective.
Not a bad plan, but is it for the best?
For the last month or so, I have been using the God Soaked Life by Chris Webb as a devotional. At the end of each chapter he includes a list of verses that we can use as a daily mediation. How I came to this epiphany was from Hebrews 4:1-7, and with it the questions from the book: “Do you find it easy or difficult to live in today, in the present moment? What helps you, and what prevents you?” (p. 125)
This brought me to the point of acknowledging my difficulty with the present.
Thus, I began a path of wondering, what does the Bible teach on Today? Much of our Christian life is looking towards the future, i.e. living with God in heaven for all eternity. It’s how we get through the rigors of living on this planet: the hope of heaven, living with God always. And yet, we are constantly being reminded of living in the present.
James warns about not making plans, because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow.
Matthew says don’t worry about tomorrow, because today has enough trouble of its own.
Hebrews talks about encouraging each other to live in “today”, because sin is so prevalent in our “today,” we need to be alert. And earlier in this book, the author says, don’t harden your hearts, but listen to God “today.”
It seems that living in the present is encouraged as being able to live fully in the life that God has given us. Life in the present is His gift to us.
Since this discovery, I wondered how can I learn to live for today? There must be practices that would inadvertently help me in this quest. What would remind me that today is the day God has given me?
One of the first things I’ve begun doing in the morning, as I’m waking and deciding if I want to get out of bed, is saying the following verse:
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 ESV)
Somehow this re-sets my mind. My day becomes an intentional acknowledgement of God’s gift. I am refocused on the present day, and not looking ahead to some vague future.
I’ve also decided to add a practice to the end of my day called the Examen. The Examen is quite simple and requires a purposeful questioning at the end of each day. There are actually only two questions, and they help us examine our day and bring to light what in our day created emotional reactions. The questions may be something like this: What in my day brought me great joy? What in my day took away my joy? You may use variations of these questions, but the essence of the questions are: what in our day gave us consolation, and what part of the day brought on desolation.
The uses of the Examen are many, but for my purposes it helps me look at my day, to review it, and allows me to acknowledge my day as being “Today.”
These two practices are really effortless but help to “re-boot” my mind towards present living instead of future living. My hope is that in doing these practices over time, I will find myself living in the present, and in turn, will dissuade my escapism and my unrealistic imaginings of an undisturbed future.
I wonder how you would answer the questions that Chris Webb posed? Do you find yourself living mainly in the past or future rather than in the gift of the present?
If you are like me and dwell somewhere other than in the present, may you find a way for yourself to help in living for “Today.”