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The Gift of This Present Moment

If I am always trying to improve and grow as a human being and a Christian, can I ever be truly satisfied with where I am at and the moment I live in? That’s not really a rhetorical question, nor a philosophical one. It’s a true, practical, nitty gritty question that I have not been able to answer yet in my life. I’m sure I’ll never get to the answer either, which drives me a slight bit crazy.

I really like to think about growth areas. I like the process of identifying where I can improve in every sphere. I like it so much that perhaps it takes up an inordinate amount of my time, with little left over to do the actual growing and improving I so enthusiastically plan. But one thing I have noticed in all that research and analyzing, thinking, praying, and planning: somehow the moment I live in right now, and the person I am right now, and the reality I am surrounded by right now—flesh and blood people, situations and circumstances that are concrete realities that I must find a way to engage in and with—somehow those right now things get very little attention and focus from me. And the more I realize that, the more sorrow I feel, as if I have lived a counterfeit life, and been cheated by time itself.

It seems to me to be a kind of wounding irony of life that we spend so much of it searching for answers and so little of it living in a way that shows the questions were answered for us long ago. What I mean by that is this: we as Christ followers are ultimately meant to live in such a way that we are constantly enjoying and reveling in all the things he has done and is doing for us every moment. Our salvation was only the beginning: the gifts hidden inside of Christ’s death and resurrection are unfolding for us moment by moment, opening anew endlessly, like one of those delightful Russian nesting dolls all the foreigners who visit here just have to buy. But the Lord created it so that those gifts cannot be accessed at any other time except this moment and this day.[1] Like the rotting manna, if we are try to gather more than this day’s supply, we find ourselves in a position not of satiety but of discarding our imagination’s endless parade of unusable futures and warped memories that spoil on the shelf of our souls way too quickly.

It’s like this: I am riding home in a taxi with my son, who is 16. If you have ever had or have a 16-year-old son, you will understand that as a mother, I have very little insider knowledge of what goes on in this man-child’s head. I want to connect with him—I want to love him—but most importantly, I want him to understand that I love him, which is another thing altogether from the actual love I have. (As I see it, love that doesn’t communicate to the beloved amounts to nothing more than sentiment). So I must make a decision in this moment: do I try to improve our relationship? Do I try some method of getting him to talk? Do I go to the file box in my head, and spend the entire ride searching for just the right index card in my brain’s vast library, the one that says, “This is how you connect the right way and then you can sleep better tonight, knowing what a great mom you are?” This is honestly the way I do it way too often. And yet somewhere deep inside I simply know and sense there must be a better way.

What if…what if I just stopped trying to improve, perform, and perfect everything and just looked at him and enjoyed him without any pressure to do anything or to say anything? What if I just sat down in a moment that had no strings attached? Let out a big sigh, shrugged my shoulders at the future, and at all that “personal growth” I so desperately need, and just grabbed this particular moment with this particular person that will never happen again? Maybe there would be silence, maybe we would talk, maybe I would grab his hand or ruffle his hair, maybe I would say, “Hey remember that time we…” I don’t know what I would do because the moment has long passed me by. It’s only a memory now, one that I can certainly learn from, but I cannot have it back again.

Psychologists tell us that the ability to reflect upon, process, and find meaning in our everyday experiences in life is what makes us most human, and sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. With that comes the ability to actively replay the past on the screen of our minds (albeit, an “interpreted past,” only seen through our limited perspectives and understanding), and also to create an imagined future (which gives us the ability to create things like airplanes and atomic bombs). This extremely highly developed part of the human brain is certainly our greatest strength (look around this world at what we have created!), but also our greatest weakness (look around this world at what we have created!) How do I honor that which makes me most human, most God-like, and yet not let it become my soul’s prison from which I cannot escape?

It’s not that I become an irresponsible vagabond, yelling “Carpe diem” every morning as I rush headlong into the day without thoughtful and careful intent. Neither do I want to lose the very real desire to grow and learn and change at deep levels that takes a lot of inner work and healing. That extreme is not what I am talking about here. The goal and challenge is to have what some have called a sanctified imagination, one that functions as it supposed to, without hindering and hampering the opportunity to live in the present, unfolding moment.

I’m ultimately after a better balance, where the present moment is appreciated, relished, and lived out fully, while at the same time maintaining a deep inner life of reflection and sanctification. Is that so much to ask? Apparently, by a quick inventory-taking of my personal life—yes, yes it probably is!

Oh well. I’m never gonna get this perfect. I will never find that balance every moment. But at the very least, I can celebrate the fact that I know one exists, and I know where to find it. In Christ alone, my daily bread, my miraculous manna, my ever-unfolding gift, my very present help in times of trouble (and all other times for that matter), the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, who holds time itself in his hands. Every moment becomes a new chance in life: balance, joy, and grace in him.

So what if the moment that has passed wasn’t exactly what I wanted? I have another one coming, and another after that, and yet another after that…until finally the moments end on this side of heaven and I gain that perfection I so desperately desire at last. Nothing to prove, nothing to improve, all is swallowed up in those eyes and that embrace...when all things are present, both now and forevermore.

[1] For example, the Lord’s prayer teaches us to ask for “daily bread,” Paul reminds us of Isaiah's words, "Now is the time of God's favor, today is the day of salvation," and many other Biblical references such as these

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