I’ve been listening to conversations and articles about how many people are trapped in their past, preventing them from living into the present or anticipating a future of new possibilities. There are others who appear to be consumed with the idea that one can live so fully in the present that past and future are of no consequence. There are yet others who live in the world of a desired future seemingly expecting it to come to them from a source of total fantasy. The past does not exist. The present is an inconvenient obstacle delaying the fantasy future from arriving.
In some measure, I suppose we’re all guilty but not to the degree that we allow the past or fantasy future to control our lives. It seems to me that a healthy life must be distributed in an appropriate way while anchored in tradition handed down through generations. The present cannot be fully known and appreciated unless we know how we got to where we are. A little nostalgia is not a bad thing but historical reality must always have the upper hand. It’s needed to challenge our prejudices and to point a better way. Living fully in the present is needed to pause from mere busyness to appreciate grace, abundance, gratitude, and time for reflection. It’s needed to take new bearings, make course corrections, and check old habits interfering with new and improved direction. No one can know for certain what tomorrow will bring but it’s reasonable to anticipate, plan, and act in pursuit of one’s goals. The future is always an adventure. Well made plans take detours, go down dead ends, discover surprising opportunities, but the adventure comes to little without some planning.
As these thoughts rumbled about in my head I wondered how all of that fit into the Christian faith. From where has Christ led us, where are we now, and where are we to go? It’s a difficult question because to live into its answer we must subordinate self interest to following Jesus. Self interest is here now, tangible. We have real matters to deal with in real time. Living into past, present and future by following where Jesus leads is not tangible, it lacks hard reality, and eternity is farther beyond the demand of today than winning the billion dollar lotto – at least someone actually gets that now and then. It’s more difficult to grasp the concrete reality of living now into eternal life with God not fully realized until the gates of death are behind us.
Jesus commended the ancient words of prophets, instructing his followers to preserve what is old for its wisdom but to not be defined by it or by misleading interpretations and made up rules claiming to have biblical authority (Matt. 9). You cannot understand the new if you don’t know the history of the old but it must be understood through the lens of the laws of love Jesus commanded us to observe.
No one, as far as I know, exemplified living in the presence better than Jesus. He was fully present to each person he encountered, listening, understanding and responding with God’s grace, which, in some cases, involved appropriate chastisement. He had only three years to complete his earthly ministry but took his time with frequent hours alone to commune with The Father. With divine authority he instructed us to trust God and not worry so much about material things. Material things are needed of course and God knows that, but look at the abundance and beauty of creation and we are of more value than that. So trust God, follow in the way of love and what you have will be what you need (Matt. 6). It’s a hard lesson. All of us know about the desperate needs of others and some have personal experience of extraordinary needs. Failure and lack of security in the basics of life are real. Yet those who trust in God seem to have the resources needed to get through when others do not.
With trust in God and following Jesus in the way of love, the future will always be an adventure. Like any adventure, it will come with risks, even danger, but it will also come with rewards of satisfaction and gratitude in spite of self doubt and the knowledge that good enough is as close as we can get to getting it right. Planning with great expectations is not excluded. Jesus made plans and was disciplined in pursuing them. So did Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and every other generation of Christian disciples. Life always intervenes through chance, unforeseen conditions, and unintended consequences. Mistakes are made, dead ends encountered, rabbit holes dived into. Life is always filled with the need to recalculate, and recalculating to keep things the way they are without change is the deadest dead end of all.
The Christian life is a life of balance. It learns from and treasures tradition. It is as fully present as possible in the events of each day. It lays ordinary human plans for the future and works toward them but its ultimate end is a new and fuller life in God’s eternal presence. It doesn’t deceive itself with magical thinking, unwarranted skepticism, naive trust in human goodness, or pride in self. It trusts in God’s grace made known to us through Jesus Christ and it faces the unknown with courage. It’s an ideal we fail to live up to yet it remains our certain hope that with God’s help we will make it. We are already walking into our eternal life, unsteadily, not yet there, but guided by its light. Our obligation is to let that light shine into the lives of others in whatever way we can.