There's No Time Like The Present
By: John H. Campbell
"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God's gift, that's why we call it the present." -Joan Rivers
I've often began some of the writings I have contributed with some odd quotations from unexpected sources that may not immediately come to mind or be associated with God or spirituality. Sometimes I reference theological authors, sometimes verses from Scripture, and at others I have included quotes from pop culture and even heavy metal song lyrics. But I never imagined in a million years that I would be quoting Joan "Can we talk?" Rivers at the beginning of an article focusing on spirituality and Christianity.
I was not even aware of the individual to whom the above quote was attributed to until I did some online research, and most of my knowledge of Joan has been as outrageous, boisterous and irreverent comedienne rather than a sage or source of profound spiritual wisdom (although I am certain she is a good person. However, the above quote, which I feel is extremely relevant to what I wish to articulate in what I am about to write, is filled with wisdom that I feel everyone could benefit from, and that I have to occasionally do a personal inventory of my own feelings and remember. The fact that it is a quote from a person whom I might not have initially expected to have made it only further serves to reinforce my faith that there are absolutely no limits to the places where God can share gifts of wisdom with us all, from the most unexpected sources.
I suppose that it should not have come as such a surprise, given how I had only just recently had another experience which had reaffirmed within me and illuminated in my consciousness and daily life the definite value of living in the moment via another very unexpected source.
The first part of this tenth year of the 00's has been a challenging one for me on a multitude of levels. Granted, compared to some of the trials I have endured in life (and especially in comparison to the trials of others) what I have found myself facing and dealing with has been petty and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Still, dealing with the rather heavy consequences of years of unattended to dental health, unexpected flare ups of sciatica, financial and scheduling challenges, and two nasty bouts with the flu (one of which I am in the midst of as I write this, the other which took place on the first vacation from work I had had in over a year) has been a shade onerous on a personal level to say the least.
While I fully acknowledge and realize that what I have been besought with is nothing compared to the trials others may find themselves struggling through-those dealing with the loss of loved ones, natural disasters, and other tragedies that make the things we complain about on a personal level pale to inconsequential in scope in contrast-it's still not easy. Nor is it for any of us; and I feel that it's perfectly acceptable for us to feel temporarily sidetracked, distressed, or upset about those "little things", so long as we can through prayer, meditation, soul searching reach a place of being spiritually grounded and able to put whatever plight it is which we feel we are dealing with in the appropriate perspective.
About a month ago, however, I found myself in a state of being which was preventing me from seeing things in the correct perspective; perhaps the best way of describing it is that I was just plain tired. I was tired of one inconvenience after another, of constant new challenges arising once I had gotten through the previous one, and although I always trust in the Loving God to get me through whatever negative circumstances I might find myself dealing with, I just found myself in a hurry to get through them. When I had things I had to do, even when they were things that I both wanted and needed to do (getting to the gym early every morning, getting into work early and getting things done, keeping all of my appointments to have a mouth full of bad teeth which were creating other health problems fixed, reorganizing and cleaning the house, house shopping, and so on) my prayers were becoming "God, please just get me through this and on to the next thing."
I became very focused on the calendar, and what was coming up in the days, weeks and months to come. I marked the dates for events I was looking forward to-the main one at the time being my upcoming vacation (although in reality it was not so much a "vacation" as a four day weekend) - and steeled myself to get through what I had to in the interim. I resigned myself to being on a sort of "auto pilot", giving little to no consideration to what was going on at the time, but thinking ahead to tomorrow. My mindset was one of just going through the motions without much emotion until I arrived at a better place; hardly conducive to a good attitude and not a very spiritually healthy manner of thinking, I am aware, but it was what I was feeling at the time.
Shortly thereafter, once I had made this resolve, God got my attention, as God always thankfully does, whenever I embark on some spiritually self destructive thought and behavior pattern. And it was through a method I never would have suspected or expected, although in retrospect given my experiences, I should have.
I had just completed the final extraction of the last infected wisdom tooth, which had followed three other extractions over the past few months, and not all of them were wisdom teeth. The procedure itself went very well; whereas the previous ones had been, well, like pulling teeth, this one went very smoothly-with the numbing working on the first try and the tooth coming out in one piece with no issues. The only thing to face at that point was my least favorite part: the healing and aftercare-especially since that now I had sockets on both sides of my mouth.
The pain and hassle of these extractions (I absolutely hate having teeth pulled) were only part of the consequences I was reaping for never taking the time to care for my teeth even after I finally did have dental insurance, but that did nothing to render me any less miserable as I drove home, mouth full of bleeding gauze as I tried to smoke without tearing the clot in the socket out and drink water from one side of my mouth, and attempting to beat the pain to the pharmacy to get my Tramadol prescription filled before the Novocaine wore off and stop by Cold Stone to get some ice cream, which was likely all I would be able to eat that night.
My GPS had carried me over to a different area of town where the Cold Stone was, one far from my usual local drugstore, but there was one close by. I stopped in and walked back to the pharmacy counter, only to find it would be about an hour wait once I had given them the prescription. I sighed audibly, and walked outside to make a few phone calls as I waited and let everyone know I had survived. This only killed a few minutes, so I walked back into the store with a list of a few other items I needed to pick up and bring home.
Once I was done picking up gauze, oatmeal, soup, cat food and a few things my girlfriend needed, I happened to be walking past a clearance rack and a stack of DVDs on clearance caught my eye. One of them was one of those Pixar/Disney movies (I can't recall which one) but the other was one I had seen on cable quite some time ago and enjoyed, and it was on sale for $2.00. Although in this age of tight finances DVD purchases are very much a luxury, I could not resist a movie for that price. The person ringing me up even had to confirm the price as she could not believe it, and told me it was a good choice in a movie, as it was "so true". With that, I took my purchases, my medication, and my now slightly melted pint of Cake Batter ice cream from Cold Stone and made my way home.
The movie I had purchased for such a low price was a 2006 Adam Sandler film called "Click". It's classified as a "comedy" but it's more of a "dramady" with a message. Being a fan of most of the Sandler movies, and recalling that I had liked the movie on a previous viewing, I was glad to have picked it up for such a discount. I had not seen it for a while, so we popped it in the DVD player when I got home.
For those who have not seen the film, the main character is a stressed out, frustrated architect who is struggling to climb the corporate ladder and reach a point of success where he can find the time to enjoy with his wife, kids and family, but is constantly allowing factors such as his work, career, and ambition get in the way of having any form of relaxed quality time. Angry one night over a broken remote control, he makes a fateful trip to Bed Bath and Beyond where a mysterious character named Morty (played in an amusing fashion by Christopher Walken) working in the "Beyond" section gifts him with a "Universal Remote" that will control everything in his life. It works a bit too well, in fact: it not only controls the TV, it actually does control his life. He can freeze time, pause, slow, replay events, mute or turn the volume down on people who he doesn't want to listen to, and fast forward past whatever in his life he doesn't want to deal with-all of the unpleasant stuff. He can jump ahead as far as he wants.
At first he finds this fantastic-fast forwarding through arguments with his wife, anything negative and so on-but of course, there is a consequence: during these times when he "fast-forwards" he is still present in the time period he is skipping forward through, but is quiet, emotionless, and not fully present, simply "there." This causes further emotional distance and conflict with his family, and he misses out on a lot of the good moments, time with pets and loved ones, quality time with his family, wife, kids and parents. To complicate matters further, the remote begins to develop a mind of its own, fast-forwarding at will, and he finds himself missing out on most of his life. When he decides to fast forward from the present to the time when he has been promoted and "things will be better", although he is strongly advised against it by Morty, he finds that perhaps it is best to let things be rather than trying to fast forward through the rough times in life.
I won't ruin the ending for anyone who has not seen it, should you care to, but suffice to say, the main character learns the value of living in the moment, and coming to the realization that all of life - every moment and not just the highlights - is a gift to be cherished. It's an odd little film, in that it begins as the typical screwball comedy one would expect from Sandler and company, but then takes a screaming left turn into a dramatic movie with some touching moments and a climax that had me (and most people who I have seen it with) in tears. It's one of those movies that leaves you wanting to call family members and loved ones you haven't talked to in a while just to remind them you love them and care about them and really makes you think about what is of the most value in life.
At least, it really made me think. After watching it over the days that followed, it occurred to me that I had been doing exactly that: attempting to "time travel" into my own future by fast forwarding through the moments in life that weren't in alignment to where I wished I was at the time. I thought about the matter and it seemed to me there were quite a few times that I had gone on "auto pilot" rather than allowing myself to be fully alive, awake, aware and rejoicing in the present moment at any given time. (Comparatively, it wasn't too unlike the days years ago when I would escape facing things with alcohol, albeit far less damaging and detrimental.) To compound matters, I would also devote far too much time and energy to concerns about what tomorrow might bring which could add to the negativity. Even with better times to look forward to eagerly and the awareness and knowledge that this too would pass, and good things were on the way, was another personal disaster, or something even worse possibly looming on the horizon?
I began to be concerned as to whether I was seeing life as a series of trials and tribulations with some bright spots rather than the way I would like to and that I feel my faith compels me to see it: as an overall joyous experience with a few pitfalls here and there that I know God will get me through when they come up and leave me stronger and wiser on the other side of them. I felt that I needed to adjust perspective and perhaps instead of just existing and getting through the less than ideal times to try and make the absolute best of every moment available to me, as deep down, I know in my heart that every moment of our lives, wherever we may find ourselves at that moment, is nothing short of a gift. It is how we choose to interpret it and what we choose to make of it that I feel truly matters the most.
By no means do I feel that there is anything in error in myself or anyone else looking forward to what tomorrow will bring. Faith has taught me time and time again that each new moment can bring something to look forward to with great anticipation, and God is always full of wonderful surprises, most often when and where we would least expect it. But I awoke with a new attitude over the next few weeks, catching myself whenever I would have the impulse to just "get through something" as opposed to being fully present in that moment.
If I found myself dealing with a day where I was tight on time due to unexpected circumstances beyond my control and it was preventing me from getting all of the things I wanted to accomplish done, rather than think to myself that "tomorrow would go better" or "I'll make up for that tomorrow" as I often did, I instead opted to seize the moment and make the absolute best with what I had; while it might not have been the ideal, there was no reason that it could not suffice as perfect for the time, place and circumstances I found myself in at the moment. If I wasn't feeling the best, or recovering from something, I still allowed myself to be fully present and adopted the attitude that while I might not feel the best, I was still grateful to be able to feel.
I strived to seek whatever opportunities in the moment I could-ones which I might have ordinarily allowed to escape my awareness due to preoccupation over what transpired prior or what might have been forthcoming-for a greater sense of appreciation of where I was at that moment, spiritual growth and insight, or the chance to share some good God had brought me with another and suddenly said opportunities began to present themselves, or I became aware of them. Perhaps most important of all, whenever I would catch myself engaging in the old thought patterns of "things will get better" or "eventually everything will turn out all right" I would mentally correct myself by transforming those thoughts to ones of "things are better" and "everything is all right." It is quite phenomenal the power God has blessed us with in our minds, where our focus on a positive attitude really can turn things around in our personal well being and our current reality, whatever that may be-and even in the lives of those around us.
I hit a bit of a snag when the tomorrow I had been so eagerly looking forward to while dealing with times which I had imagined to be not all that pleasant finally arrived. I awoke the morning of departure for my long awaited time away with a scratchy throat, congestion, and a low grade fever. At first, my mind attempted to regress to the way I had been thinking with a negative inner voice affirming, "I knew it! I knew something like this was going to happen at the last minute" and I was ready to call the whole thing off, non-refundable tickets and all and regretfully let down everyone else who had been counting on my going.
But something within me shifted: I took some medicine, rested for the rest of the morning before time to leave that afternoon, and allowed myself to be grateful for everything in the moment. I might be under the weather, but I was far from being at death's door, and I was determined to see that my gut feeling that God would not want me to be unhappy or to suffer was correct. If I had to miss the vacation, so be it-but I opted to hope for the best and be grateful that at least I had the next few days off of work. I downed some vitamin C and rested for a while, hoping for the best and maintaining the best thoughts I could.
Fortunately, when I awoke, the fever had dissipated, and although I still felt a little less than optimal, it had downgraded to congestion and a nagging cough. We stopped on the way out to get some cold medicine and Ricolas, and I decided to make the best of everything.
Sure, if I had not had a cold, it would have been even more enjoyable. But rather than worry about whether or not I was going to get worse, or bemoan the fact that I was feeling less than perfect, I decided to remain in the moment and not allow my enjoyment of something I had been looking forward to be dampened. While I spent some of the time away blowing my nose and coughing overall I and everyone else had a wonderful time - and I was grateful for the "right now," rather than concerned with what might happen the following day, or thinking of a future vacation where I was not afflicted with a cold bug, or beating myself up for not wearing a jacket a week earlier on a chilly evening.
It does not always happen that way; I could have very well been too ill to travel and had to call the entire thing off. Perhaps it was indeed risky, and I was opening myself up to get sicker. But my point in relating this story is threefold: One, the future event I was allowing myself to focus on in the weeks prior rather than living in the moment could very well have not happened - meaning that I would have been shunning being in the moment for nothing. Two, when I was faced with a tomorrow that did not live up to my expectations, rather than adopt thoughts of doom and gloom, I attempted to stay present and make the best of the situation possible. And finally, even though the "perfect" mini-vacation was hampered slightly by how I was feeling, when the negative took place, I made the conscious decision to appreciate it for what it was, and make the very best of the moment. Overall, it helped me to grow.
Even though it was less than optimal, I thank God for how it all transpired. The experience was enlightening, and has blessed me with a sense of growth which I find myself applying to other situations where I might be focusing on "enjoying life more when circumstances improve" to "striving to enjoy life all the time, regardless of whatever circumstances exist." And I am still employing some of the tools I learned from that experience on a daily basis. As they say, when we do experience rough spots, sometimes they have a way of making us stronger and experience has taught me time and time again that God is always there for us during them, whether we are fully aware or allow ourselves to be aware of God's Loving Presence or not. They key is in how we respond to our circumstances even when they are not what we had hoped for or expected, and developing the ability to not merely tolerate but accept whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, and find and embrace the good in everything, even when that seems oh so difficult.
A formidable task at times, to be certain. But one of the factors that contributed to my ability to remain "in the now" while still cherishing what had come before and embracing the hopes for what is yet to come and trusting in the promise that what and wherever that was that God would always be there for me went back to some of the cornerstones of my faith and in the wisdom of the teachings of Jesus.
"The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" -Matthew 4:17
"The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand" -Mark 1:15
"The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say "look, here it is!" or "There it is!" For, in fact, the Kingdom of God is within you." -Luke 17: 20-21
Whenever Jesus taught about and spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God, one thing seems fairly certain: He did not want His followers to envision it as something which was to come, but something which had already fully arrived. And we all possess the keys to it, should we only believe and look within. Furthermore, He seems clear that it is not something tangible or something which could be observed in the way we might imagine, but rather a state of being that is just in front of us, all around us and especially within all of us-searching for it would be in error, and prevent us from truly experiencing the full glory of it, and of God in the present tense. Through His teachings, He seems to be illustrating how it is that anyone can access it at any time. As with all of His other teachings, I find this one to be resonant with truth. But how is it that we can access the Kingdom, right here and now?
Some people believe that the only access to Heaven lay beyond this life, or this state of being we know as life. A great many people still base the entire foundation of their faith in God - or at least, their primary reason for seeking God and Christ, in either the hopes of entering a realm of eternal life and peace called "Heaven" upon departing this plane of existence or worse, out of the terror of being sent to a place of eternal punishment known as "Hell." It is any wonder that there are so many constantly worried for tomorrow when so many place such a deep concern about what will transpire when there is no more tomorrow as we know it, and this life as we understand it ends for us on an individual level?
It occurs to me that a significant amount of those who subscribe to a fear based, legalistic understanding of Scripture and the Bible, e.g., the "If you do this/don't do this or believe/don't believe this, it will lead to terrible things and eternal punishment after death but if you do this you will have an eternal life in Heaven" type of mentality are not only engaging in a type of escapism from the present and avoidance of dealing with present issues, they are often living the very epitome of obsessing on the future rather than rejoicing in the present moment. Fear has a very crippling way of rendering one vulnerable to a way of life which prevents them from embracing the moment and life by keeping them preoccupied with what they anticipate or worry is yet to take place. It is not a great surprise to me that given the collective angst about the uncertainty of what lies beyond this life is the bargaining chip and tagline so often employed by those promoting a fear based, legalistic Christianity centered in speculation regarding eternal salvation seeking to intimidate others to subscribing to their way of thinking-by capitalizing on fears of an unknown future, be it temporal or eternal.
Oddly enough, as liberal, radical and borderline heretical as people consider my beliefs to be, in a way, a foundation of my own faith is based in staying out of Hell and in Heaven, although I view it quite differently. I view both as states of being, and I believe our being in either is largely dependent on our own decisions on where it is we elect to be through our thoughts and actions: being loving and trusting that God is going to take care of us brings us closer to Heaven, being unloving and living in fear, believing the lie that God could never love us as we are, and not seeking a way to make things better keeps us in Hell. I would imagine that the states of being are exactly the same in this life as whatever comes next. I know what being in both a state like being in Hell must be like, as I felt that when I at one time felt as if God was not there or did not Love me, and acted in selfish and self destructive ways, and I have felt what I know Heaven must be like, through feeling God's Love, through the loving and compassionate actions of others as well as the times I have been able to give to, care for and forgive others and embrace life to the fullest as God's Gift.
As I tell anyone who assures me I am going to Hell all of the time, "Been there. Done that. I'm not going back" and anyone who says, "Aren't you worried about getting into Heaven?" I usually respond that I'm already there, or "Why, has it moved? Is it no longer within?" (all with a smile, of course).
In all seriousness, I sincerely believe that the entire concept of devoting any serious amount of concern or any amount of worrying to what the life after this one is exactly like or worse, worrying over it is not only not what God would want for us or what Jesus taught, it is a hindrance to our truly being able to embrace the moment and realize that Heaven, and a sense of Oneness with God is fully accessible to us right here and now.
While a key element of learning to embrace and truly appreciate the moment is to let go of any concerns of what may be ahead; but what about when we might find ourselves in a place where we might be optimistic and at peace about whatever the future may hold but are dissatisfied and not content with where we find ourselves at the present time. In those times when we are tempted to attempt to dwell upon the past or jump forward into the future, how can the Kingdom be here already?
Life is, even with the things which can occur on a daily basis a beautiful gift and experience, and a blessing from God. I am of the belief, as I know Jesus is teaching, that the miracle of life - this mysterious experience we are sharing as spiritual beings having a human experience - is inherently good. At times, we may temporarily allow fear to cloud our understanding of this; sometimes it is being under stress from day to day life or going through a time of spiritual growth and feeling overwhelmed, at others it is allowing our lack of knowledge about exactly what will take place in the future to get the best of our imaginations, and at others, it may simply be a lack of understanding of things far beyond our scope and not yet being able to love and embrace the questions rather than demanding the answers.
At times, it can also be our lack of understanding others who may think, live or feel differently than we do; God's Work of Creation is diverse beyond the limits of our imagination. What a wonderful world it would be (and that I feel someday, it can and will be) when we in all of our diversity could merely acknowledge and accept one another one and all, and live in peace and harmony and appreciate all of our diverse ways, and celebrate the things which make us individuals rather than live in conflict. But we're not there yet, and we need to make the best of the moment while working towards that goal of peace.
In the Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven, there are no barriers. If we allow ourselves to go within and consider that each and every one of us is a loved and cherished Creation of an Unconditionally Loving God, even when the external circumstances might dictate otherwise, we can find the courage and the strength, the hope and the knowledge of knowing that in God's Eyes, whatever differences we may have are shattered, and we are all children of the same God.
I know that as a bisexual, and one in a committed and honest relationship with both a woman and a man, a host of unorthodox views, and as a nonconformist, I have gotten my share of being misunderstood, not accepted and even shunned and hated by others. And I know that many of my LGBT friends, both those more conservative in thought than I and those who can relate to where I am coming from have had to endure their own share of hardships. And there are yet others I know who are not LGBT but who are somehow "different" from the norm or the mainstream who have had to deal with hardships. In all of the above cases, the conflict and stress of others hating them (or masking their fear and misunderstanding with hate) and persecuting them has created circumstances that can make one long for the past or move ahead to a time when there is a greater understanding.
But of the many lessons I have learned, regardless of what circumstances we are faced with, the key is in how we react to them. We can ignore them, and not address them, and allow ourselves to internalize them, which can lead to negative results; we can bite back, which never leads to anything good in my experience - or, we can simply first go within and realize, fully acknowledge and understand that God Loves us as we are, and then respond peacefully-even if that response is nothing more than not allowing the fears of others to have a negative influence on us and focusing instead on the fact that God Loves us just as we are as best we can-and living joyfully with confidence.
There are times when we might find our present circumstances are such that we wish we were elsewhere far from the moment, be it the past or a different and better future. And as previously stated, it is perfectly natural and normal for us to trust in God and have faith that things will be better and to look forward to those things with eager anticipation. However, I feel it is critical that we are able to remain in the moment as well.
So many times, when I have been dealing with difficult times, I have longed for tomorrow and wondered if a better day would come. When grieving for a loved one, I would mourn and endure the feelings of loss, grief and sadness-yet at the same time, be so grateful to be able to feel and to love and care so deeply for another. When dealing with what at the time seemed to be my life falling apart, I would recall the times I had thought that before only to later find that things were actually starting to come together. And when dealing with health issues, and recovering from sickness, I would be grateful that I was healing rather than continuing to hurt and for the people who were there caring for me.
And even just during overall rough times, sometimes I will just be glad for something that made me smile, a favorite song on the radio, the cup of coffee I had that day, the beauty of a sunrise, the cat purring on my lap, love and the ability to love, the sense of knowing God is there and all of the gifts God has given me, all of the loved ones in my life, the sense of knowing regardless of what that there is nothing "unnatural" about me to God, the knowing that being bisexual is how I am made and nothing to feel shame, guilt or fear about, the fact that my relationships, however unconventional are a gift and a blessing whether others understand them or not, and the list goes on and on and is endless. It is all of these things, sometimes just the thought of them - and a deep sense of gratitude for these and all of the other blessings in my life which enable me to be able to be in the moment and enjoy everything to the best of my ability with gratitude wherever I find life has me at any given moment. Each day I have taken up the habit of taking a few minutes to write down at least ten things I am grateful for that day, and that has helped me to better remain in the moment.
Most of all, whenever I find myself trying to live in the past or think too far into the future, I try to focus on the idea that perhaps we are exactly and precisely where we need to be at any given moment for the highest good of all - and the reason for it will be revealed at some other unknown time. My point with all of this is that Jesus is telling us that no matter where it is we might find ourselves, Heaven is closer than we might think right now - not tomorrow, not in some far off time, but now-if we simply look within and look to God.
Another teaching which I find reminds me of the imperative to strive to live in the moment is one that many may find surprising.
"But about that day and hour no one knows"
A great many interpret this verse to be referring to the end of the world or life as we know it, but my personal understanding of this is a bit strange, most likely not theologically sound, and probably controversial, but for some reason this verse speaks to me saying that we never know when the experience of life as we know it personally may come to an end. We never know when we will be departing this life, or the life around us may alter drastically and dramatically. While this personally says to me we should not worry about what is coming or when, it also means that we should value each moment and the good that we know now, as this version of now could alter at any moment.
Although it is not a point I feel anyone should dwell upon or worry about, things can alter in an instant. Natural disasters, unexpected and sudden illness, such horrors as the loss of a loved one, debilitating illness and all number of things it is best to try to prevent and avoid, yet never dwell on can leave us in a state of wishing we had embraced the moment to remind someone we loved them, to have spent more time with someone, to have forgiven or given our apologies for words or actions we may have been hurt by or regretted.
I have had numerous times in my life when I have lost a loved one where I might not have seen them in years and been unable to say goodbye, where I was too caught up in my own fears or too self absorbed to seize the moment and let them know that I cared about them, where I later found myself wishing that I had taken the time and not "waited until tomorrow." Now I always try to make the last words I say to someone be kind ones, and even with family or friends who may not understand me, I try to make the last words I utter be ones of caring and love. And I'm never too busy to let someone know unsolicited and out of the blue that I care, for I never know if it could be the final opportunity during this life to do so; when I feel the urge, I seize the moment to do so.
I apologize if this line of thought is morbid or pessimistic in a writing which I intend to convey a positive message, I am only stating this to illustrate how thinking about tomorrow and procrastinating instead of seizing the moment can at times prevent us from making today part of a wonderful personal database of good and cherished memories. Although we can remain positively focused, trust in God, and do everything within our power to facilitate things turning out as we hoped, we have no idea of the day, time and hour when our lives can suddenly turn upside down.
Finally, there is the most quoted passage of Jesus on the value of living for now and not stressing on the future:
"Do not worry" -Matthew 25:34
I have joked on occasion that of all the teachings of Jesus, this passage, and particularly those three little words, "Do not worry" are among the most difficult of His teachings to follow. Perhaps they seem more difficult to us in this day and age, but I seriously doubt they were any less difficult to His followers when He spoke the words to them then.
But as arduous a task as it may be to allow ourselves to not succumb to worry but rather to "Let go and let God", He knew of the extreme value of not allowing worry to be a part of our consciousness. He knew that allowing ourselves to be occupied with concern about what may or may not take place tomorrow would only serve to create negativity, fear, and anxiety, all of which are not conducive to manifesting good things in our lives and the lives of those around us, but run contrary to that goal. And He acknowledged the reality that "tomorrow would have troubles of its own" and "today's being enough for today", which I imagine he said with a smile, knowing the ups and downs and highs and lows life can throw us.
But He also Knew and was attempting to plant the seed in us that positive energy could enable us not only to do great things, but to create more harmony among one another, and truly embrace the Kingdom Heaven and of God and as a result, manifest greater good for all.
I used to worry constantly. All the time. And I'm not ashamed to say it's something I still struggle with on occasion.
What finally stopped me from engaging in it without ceasing was threefold. For one, it never did one bit of good, it never had any positive effect on the outcome and usually ended up with me sabotaging myself or completely stressing out. Two, it caused me to completely miss out on the answers to the prayers I was praying about a situation because I was too preoccupied with the outcome. And finally, and most importantly, every single time, it had been engaged in for absolutely no reason-there never was anything to worry about to begin with.
One of the greatest sources of my worry for many years (aside from the initial worries that came during the recovery from being brainwashed into Biblical Literalism had brought) was the process of reconciling my spirituality and sexuality and my sexual orientation as a bisexual, and although my situation may differ I am certain most LGBT people can relate.
I knew from what I was feeling that who I am is who I was made and Created to be. I knew I was attracted to both genders and that for me bisexuality meant the need for intimacy with both a woman and a man. And deep down, I knew that although others might deem this and my sexuality as "unnatural" that it was very natural and not a sin, and the real key was to find a way to live the truth of who I am with honesty, integrity and love. Yet I would still worry; the worries would gnaw at the back of my mind like pesky little demons: it might have been worrying about what this or that person would think, who was the most correct and who was not on certain matters, or the worst of all, planted by those who persecuted me, what if I really was unacceptable and God really did hate me?
I wasn't willing to give up half of who I am, be untrue to who I am, or give up on God or being a follower of the teachings of Jesus, so I would constantly pray, "ask"-ing (Ask, seek and knock) for inner peace, for guidance, for strength and hope. Finally, one day, it did occur to me to just accept the deepest inner feeling in my heart - that God does accept and love me just as I am - and stop worrying about exactly when all of the old fears would fade away and leave me and I would come to a greater sense of peace.
Merely letting go of the worry about it did wonders. I stopped worrying about it, and if old fears or false worries reared their ugly head, I would just take a deep breath, and maintain my faith. I became more awake, alive and aware of God's Presence in my life. I would discover resources that helped me to understand that I was not alone, and a supportive therapist. I began to find supportive people, angels sent to me in human form who befriended me, shared thoughts about their faith which had helped them, I found others like myself who might be unorthodox or different but who had found kinship and peace with others and with God. And in the process, the worries came less and less until one day, I no longer even entertained any worries in regards to whether or not I was okay or not - I knew and had faith that I was. Over time I realized that had I not even worried at all (for there was, as always, no cause for it) I could have arrived at that peace of growth sooner and spared self-inflicted stress.
Sure, there are a great many who still do not understand me or raise an eyebrow at me when they find out I consider myself a Christian. But I don't worry about it. Being bisexual, having my own unique sexuality and feeling the need for and experiencing joy in having a loving, honest and caring relationship with both a woman and a man is simply a part of who I am. It's not complicated, albeit may seem so to some, it is in reality quite simple. While my hope is that one day there will be more acceptance of bisexuals in general and those like myself. I don't need to worry about whether or not anyone can understand it, or what anyone thinks of it. Rather, I elect to focus on and be concerned about how each day, each moment I can live the truth of who I am with love and respect for all others, while making the best of each moment and perhaps in the process making someone else feel better - even if it is merely through living happily and sharing the peace God has given me with others.
These days, when I do engage in the bad habit of worry, my worries are mostly about things like bills, mortgages, whether or not I will make a deadline at work, if there will be enough hours in the day to get everything done or about the health of loved ones or pets. Yeah, I have to catch myself at times, worrying about really insignificant things but I'm taking it one day at a time.
If we do find ourselves stuck hopelessly in worry mode, there is always a way out, and it starts with going within.
We have to look within to that place where we feel most loved and cared for by God. While we should not live in the past, or attempt to see the future, it does serve us well to recall all of those times we were so concerned and God showed us there was absolutely no cause to be. And if there aren't that many we can recall to begin with (although I feel certain when you search your heart, you will find them) then merely close your eyes and take a deep breath - and try to relax. Then go within and reflect on these thoughts:
Tomorrow isn't here yet. This is today. There is not another "when" to be concerned with; this is now. What good thing has taken place today, or what one thing brings a smile to my face?
What you're concerned about has not happened, and there is no reason to be certain that it will: it is equally as likely that it will not.
Is there anything you can do to make whatever you are worried about not happen that IS in your control? If so, take action. If not, let go, and trust in God. God will not go anywhere, will be here and be the same God tomorrow, and will not change; God does not change, only our perception does, and God is Love.
Find some sort of phrase or affirmation you can use along with this if that helps; I know it sounds very New Age or cliche, but this exercise really has helped me through some tough spots and let go of the worry.
While it is a good exercise to examine the idea that Jesus advised us not to worry and for a multitude of good reasons, sometimes what helps me most of all to live in the moment and not worry is thinking of all of the advantages of NOT worrying.
We begin to see things we might otherwise have missed. By calmly embracing the moment and not worrying about what is to come or what has past, we develop a greater sense of focus, clarity and awareness. Although the practice of multitasking is often a necessity, a critical skill and common in today's world (and only God has in my opinion truly Mastered the art of multitasking!), and it does benefit us at times to stay a step ahead, I have found it is best not to attempt to step too far ahead with thoughts into next week before the day has even started!
But if we stay calm and focused in the moment and where we are at the moment, we might just recognize a great opportunity we might have missed on the rush to the future, a chance to make a difference in someone's life, a new door opening we have been searching for, a new discovery that brings a sense of spiritual enlightenment or knowledge we had been seeking, a new friend whose acquaintance we might not have made.
All too often I have seen and experienced having the answer I was concerned about finding right there in front of me the entire time I was seeking for it, had I just slowed down, taken a deep breath and taken one step at a time. By staying in the moment, we open up possibilities rather than skipping past them.
We develop a deeper sense of appreciation for the gift of life and others. When we allow ourselves to be fully present in the moment, we can strengthen existing relationships and develop new ones. Think for a moment: if there were no tomorrow, what would you want to do today? Are there those who you would want to forgive, or ask their forgiveness? Is there something you want to tell someone that has long gone unsaid? Is there an old grudge where you want to make peace? Is there someone you are out of touch with that you would want to contact? Is there anything you have been waiting to do that you could do today?
While we should always have faith in good things to come, I still feel it is so important that we cherish and value each and every moment of each day. When I began to make a conscious effort to enjoy each minute - both the daily "things I have to do" and the "things I want to do" and even the "things I wasn't planning on doing but that came up anyway when I least expected them and at the worst possible time they could"-something interesting happened. Things that once might have been a chore or a hassle became things I looked forward to. Daily tasks gained greater significance, and if we think about it, each moment of our lives can become a prayer of gratitude if we live our lives with purpose and love and respect for all others while being true to ourselves. And even greater is when I can do something that somehow helps someone else, even if that something is just saying hello or wishing another well. I have a busy schedule and life, but I always want to try to make a positive difference in the life of another, wherever I can.
Finally, just enjoying and making the best of each day - sharing love with my partners, talking to friends and family members, picking up and cuddling and playing with the cat every day, sharing a laugh with a friend or ideas with a co worker or business associate - enjoying food, going to the gym, even on days recently when I was too sick to get out of bed and enjoying chicken soup and watching movies on cable - recollecting old good memories while making new ones-all the major things and the little things gather more meaning if I slow down and take the time to stay in the moment and embrace them. It's easy to get complacent and take things we cherish for granted unless we slow down and enjoy them fully in the moment.
We develop a deeper sense of trust in God's Unconditional Love. I think that every day is a good day, although they sometimes are not always great days. Things happen. We get sick. We get let down by others or circumstances beyond our control. The car has a flat tire, the pasta burns, everyone calls at the same time on the phone as you're in the middle of 10 other things. Sometimes we just have one of those proverbial "bad hair days."
But through embracing the moment, we develop a much greater and deeper sense of appreciation for all of life, both the times of joy and the times not as pleasant. If we find ourselves in the lows, it can give us a greater appreciation of the highs. If we are faced with a struggle, we can draw forth strength from within and arrive on the other side with strength to face similar obstacles should we ever encounter them again. Sometimes the tough times can enable us to flex spiritual muscles we might have otherwise allowed to atrophy and contribute to our personal growth and learning, and by not facing the issues at hand and breezing past them, we sacrifice that opportunity. Although the temptation may be to fast forward through the rough spots, even as it seems everything is falling apart in actuality it may be coming together, and we simply do not yet realize that.
And the result of maintaining our faith and staying present through good and bad is a newfound strength and sense of faith, trust, peace and Oneness with God and with oneself that can only lead to a better tomorrow, when it does arrive.
The advantages of embracing, cherishing and living in the moment far outweigh any perceived disadvantages. Staying in the present provides a greater appreciation of life in general and the unique life and loves God has blessed us each with, it enables us to share time with loved ones and connect with others, it offers a newfound sense of discovery, awareness and allows us to develop tools to cope during the tough times, and it also equips and enables us to develop a deeper sense of trust in God's Unconditional Love.
I believe that to God, there is no actual "when" - yesterday or tomorrow - but that it is all eternal, all one moment - although that is beyond life and understanding as we know it. However, as our understanding of God each day evolves as a gift, perhaps we can become closer to adopting that type of mindset, where we can fully realize and appreciate the sanctity and sacredness of the moment rather than what has been and yet to come.
And I think for now, that is natural for us and where we are supposed to be. I think we are meant to cherish the wonderful memories we may have from our past and retain all we have learned, and continue to build, grow, hope for and anticipate a great future full of opportunity and abundance with joyful optimism while still truly embracing this very moment. After all, if we truly live in the now and make the best of it - with the faith that whatever is to come God and the teachings Jesus gifted us with will forever hold truth and provide the keys that we might access the Kingdom of God within, then there truly is nothing to be concerned about.
So wherever you find yourself, rejoice in the moment, celebrate and make the absolute best of it, right now! The Kingdom of God is here, and very much alive within you. There is always plenty to look forward to, and a host of blessings in the past to be grateful for. And with faith in God and the comforting messages of Jesus, the best things are sure to come, and tomorrow will hold what it will hold - but trust and patiently believe that whatever it brings, God will always be there for you, with an Unconditional Love, enabling you to face whatever lies ahead with peace, comfort and strength.
But don't worry about that right now. Simply cherish the moment, for each moment is a precious gift to be treasured - celebrate the blessings from the past and have faith in a bright future on the horizon. But never forget to celebrate right here and right now - for there truly is no time and no gift like the present.
Copyright © by the author All Rights Reserved