As I was writing this article, the news
came through that yet another type of COVID had emerged here in South Africa and that lockdowns loom. They should have called this virus Medusa based on the number of times COVID-19 grows a new ‘head’. So folks, more to worry about, stress over, or hide from. It’s a good time to remind ourselves that Jesus said,
“do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (.Matthew 6:34).
However, I have to confess to you that living ‘in today’ is something I have never managed to do. I do not dwell on the past, but a lot of my focus is inevitably on the future. Yes, I know the song that goes “Yesterday is dead and gone and tomorrows out of sight”. I am also cynically aware of quotes such as, ‘The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it.” Actually, that isn’t a bad quote, but no matter how I try, I just don’t seem to be able to apply it. Perhaps it is my genetic heritage or maybe my training, but one way or another it is my reality. Let me give you two small but telling examples.
Occasionally, my wife, Pat, and I watch a ‘who-dun-it’ movie on
TV. Within ten minutes, I am trying to work out who the villain is and how the story will end. When I think I have solved it, I lose interest in the plot and start checking my social media. Sigh! Another example is when we go shopping. Yesterday we set off to a nursery to buy some specific plants that we need. Halfway there, Pat mentioned that we should visit a thrift store on route as it was just up the road. When we got to the nursery, even before entering the seedling section, she veered off and led me towards the home crafts division. My frustration levels rose immediately. I was there to buy a seedling, a specific seedling, not craft paint, gifts for the granddaughters or second-hand whatsits! My mind was already an hour into the future, back home with seedling in hand. Pat’s mind was in the moment. So, who do you think enjoyed the journey the most? My wife of course! Notwithstanding my grumpy recalcitrance.
The Problem with Living in the Future or the Past
A benefit of having a future orientation is that there are fewer surprises and perhaps better financial results. However, there never was a time as now that I can remember when the future was so unpredictable. The weather is a good parallel to life in general right now. When I was in my thirties, I could count on summer rain in Gauteng around 5 pm every evening. Now, I look at three different weather apps, note that they all tell a different story, then glance out the window and see weather conditions that none of the forecasts indicated.
Focusing on the future, while it has some advantages, often yields anxiety, stress, and even depression. However, living in the past can generate feelings of regret, indignation, or complacency.
Both ways of living produce more problems than solutions, and more negatives than positives. So, for people like me here are two scriptures to remember:
- Matthew 6:11, from the prayer model that Jesus gave his disciples: “Give us today our daily bread“
- James 4:14 “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”.
And for those who focus a lot on the past, Isaiah 43:18-19 ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?’
Despite what texts we refer to or quotes we hang onto, we all know that we need to embrace all of our life experiences, past, present, and future.
- Without a consciousness of the past, we tend to learn little and change less.
- Without a sense of immediacy, we miss much that is good and fail to see potential around us.
- Without any attempt to evaluate future possibilities, we tend to live in relative insecurity and often blunder into obstacles we could have avoided.
The Lord Jesus spoke several times about the need to live in the present, but he also spoke of the wisdom of foresight. Luke 14:28-30 has, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” His immediate application was to the cost of following him, but the principle applies to other applications.
He also told the well-known story of the wise bridesmaids who planned for the possible late arrival of the groom (Luke 12:35-40), and he also counselled the wisdom of remembering (Luke 17:32 John 15). So, the crux of the matter is balance, not absence. We need to remember the past and learn from it, and we need to plan for the future, but we need to live mainly in the present.
Another confession. I get irritated by preachers who tell me to be, think or do something without presenting any useful information on just ‘how’ to achieve the desired state. Sometimes specific examples depend on individual circumstances, but the principles apply to all circumstances. The least a preacher can do is to clearly present the principles involved and then give one or two applications to make things more real and specific. Last Sunday the preacher, a man I like a lot, told us that we all need to hunger and thirst for righteousness. He even quoted someone who suggested that those who did not should not consider themselves as Christians at all. But just how can I change from apathy to passionate yearning for the things of God? Give me something practical man!
So here are some practical suggestions for how we can live in today, rather than in yesterday or tomorrow. I gathered these from a number of different psychologists, life coaches, and preachers but edited out the blather about yoga positions and mindfulness meditations. Please bear two things in mind; (1) These are just suggestions to consider that may or may not help you in your particular mindset and circumstances, and (2) If we just select one or a few of them, it could make a big difference to our orientation – no need to try them all.
- Focus on today’s tasks, challenges, and opportunities. Schedule/diarise things to do in the next 24 hours and not just the things to do later.
- At the end of each day write down what happened that day, forgive those who offended you, celebrate the good and satisfying, and pray with thankfulness to the Lord. The power of a daily journal lies more in the focus it brings of the present than the record it provides for the future.
- Simplify your life wherever possible. Fewer possessions and commitments mean fewer worries and the need to foresee what lies ahead.
- Practice spontaneous acts of kindness. Doing something kind, loving, or appreciative impulsively focuses us on the present.
- Consciously change routines as you go through your day. Eat, sleep, or work at different times or in different places.
- In as much as possible, confront today what you know will probably be a future problem – move it from future to present.
A quote I found interesting and thought-provoking is attributed to the great Albert Einstein:
‘Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none’.
However, my favourite quote is from the pen of A.A.Milne:
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today”, squealed Piglet.
“My favourite day” said Pooh.