For most of us, autumn is a time for getting back into the swing of things after the lazy, hazy days of summer.
Which means it is also a time for fresh starts and new hopes, for setting goals and mapping out schedules.
Out of necessity, we must look ahead: to get the right person to the right place at the right time with the right materials; to maintain (and repair) houses, cars, pets, and, well, everything; to get our work done; and even to have food to eat and clean clothes to wear.
All of this planning and scheduling can be helpful for prioritizing time and money and for seeing where the Lord is already at work around us.
It is also, as one of my friends very succinctly summed up, exhausting.
And exhaustion is not the only effect. If we are not careful, we can also fall prey to 3 other dangers that lie behind so much forward-thinking.
The habit of looking ahead distorts our perspective, steering us away from the reality of everyday life and into hazy visions of a distant, more rose-colored future.
We find ourselves less engaged in the activities we must accomplish today and more preoccupied with those experiences we hope to have one day when:
One day when…the house is finally in order.
One day when…the kids are potty-trained (or in school or grown up).
One day when…we have more money.
One day when…we have it all together and our ends finally meet.
While these scenarios may be neither wild imaginings nor impossible aspirations (after all, a clean house is do-able and one day children will grow up), they are enough to generate some stirrings of discontent with our actual reality.
Enough to make us feel dissatisfied with what we have, impatient about what we can’t immediately change, and overwhelmed by the amount of work, time, and trust required of us to get from where we are to where we want to be.
These feelings of discontent and restlessness lead right into the second danger: Too much forward-thinking dredges up discouraging feelings about past failings and disappointments.
In much the same way that speculation about the future leads to dreams of one day when, speculation about the past descends into the condemning statements of if we had just:
If we had just…not gotten angry and said those things.
If we had just…known the company would be doing lay-offs at the end of the year.
If we had just…seen the doctor sooner.
If we had just…been better…faster…stronger…at everything.
This kind of thinking sends our thoughts into a negative spiral that is hard to stop. Our dark imaginings about what could have been feel so real and hit so close to home that it is easy to forget that they are just that–imaginings. Empty, powerless, and false.
When we dream of the future and dwell on the past, we neglect the present. And that is the third and most potent danger.
Too much forward-thinking empties today of the strength and beauty that are its rightful portion (even if it means accepting the trials and lessons that come with it).
so…what to do?
To overcome these 3 obstacles, we must employ our most powerful weapon: prayer.
Prayer centers us. It restores us to our proper place both in time and in our relationship to God. Prayer immediately places us squarely under the authority of the One who, Himself beyond time, has the power to bring forth good from all things–past, present and future.
In prayer, the Lord reveals what is required of us in the present-tense of our everyday lives: to act justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
For me, living in the present tense means turning my eyes away from worthless things (things like the vain imaginings of one day when and if I had just) and turning my heart toward the word of the Lord (Ps. 119:36-37).
And I’m starting with a prayer that goes a little something like this:
Lord, help me to live here in this place, this present,
not in fear of future, not in guilt of past,
but hoping in your promises and trusting in your faithfulness.
Help me to take hold of the life that is truly life,
which is Your word and Your presence,
not my vain imaginings about what might be and what could have been,
for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
Help me to be light and life,
here in this place, here in this circumstance,
not when the house is finally in order
or when the kids are grown up
or when we have more money
or when we have it all together
In the ceaseless bickering and never-ending mess.
In the unexpected injury and the sudden sickness.
In disaster and in crisis.
In this moment when I don’t feel beautiful or organized or kind or happy or fulfilled or hopeful or strong.
Help me to trust you are close.
Help me to trust the guidance of your hand,
your hand that is not too short for me.
Help me to know that you are enough.
More than enough.
A very great reward.
Help me to see that my cup is running over
Running over right here and right now
Running over with your mercy that forgives
with your blood that justifies
with your grace that sanctifies
Help me to know that in You,
The Great I Am,
I am more than a conqueror
I am an heir to the promise of
I am resting in the shadow of your wings.
Here and now.