Stress. This last summer has been a whirlwind of ups and downs entirely built on stressful circumstances. At least, that’s how I’ve felt. A few weeks ago, I completed my MLIS degree—thank goodness—officially ending my school career. No matter what anyone says, I vow that I will never get my Ph.D. Of course, I said that about getting a Master’s degree, but this time I mean it!
After finishing up classes, I expected a little while to simply chill…maybe watch some movies or finally finish the first season “Stranger Things” before the second season comes out and I’m completely behind. I was looking forward to maybe one lazy day a week, free of homework, errands, and chores.
Well, that didn’t happen. The day after classes ended, I had a job interview. That’s what I went to school for, right? I just didn’t expect such quick results. The first interview was a nerve-wracking event, but I got through it pretty fine, and even made it to the second round, which consisted of all-day interviews and a presentation made but none other than myself. Talk about pressure. That’s where my anxiety peaked, but—again—I made it through.
It’s been a week and a half now, and I haven’t heard anything yet. This waiting period, however, has been surprisingly nice. No plans to make, and I can finally catch up on everything. But, even so, there’s a small bit of anxiety still gnawing at the back of my mind, and this anxiety stems from thinking about the future.
The unknown future, represented in A Christmas Carol by a terrifying creature dressed all in black—faceless and shrouded in darkness. An accurate portrayal, I’d say. The mysterious and unknown might seem appealing—and even adventurous—to some, but it usually tends to freak me out if I dwell on it too long. That’s why these past weeks have been a struggle. Not having a clue of what the near future might bring is like trying to go about daily life with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come hovering just within eye sight. But what else is there to do? Unable to make any real plans, I can do exactly nothing.
This brings us to this post’s main topic—living in the now. Lately, online and in my own personal reading, I’ve come across many striking quotes on this topic, which is what I’d like to share today. In fact, I almost didn’t write this post today. I almost put it off—again. Instead, I was about to browse Pinterest, but changed my mind when I opened my Pinterest page and immediately came across this quote by Emily Dickinson:
“Forever—is composed of nows.”
This quote, featured in Dickinson’s poem of the same title, reminds me of a similar idea discussed in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. This book is an especially interesting read, since it is comprised of a series of (imaginary) letters written by one senior demon named Screwtape, offering advice to the novice tempter Wormwood on how to lead his “patient” astray. This is why, in the passages below and throughout the book, God is referred to as “The Enemy.” At the end of the book, Lewis even says that the letters eventually became tedious to write because he had to constantly think of good things as bad and vice versa. Here is what Screwtape has to say about living in the present:
“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure” (Lewis 1942).
What a lovely thought, to think of the present moment as a link with eternity. But then there’s the temptation not to live in the present but, instead, the future. Screwtape talks about this, also:
“It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays…Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead” (Lewis 1942).
Boom. Mind blown. Or am I the only one? As an expert daydreamer, my mind is often floating around in the future void, creating wished-for circumstances that result in impatience and anger when they don’t come true; or, on the other end of the spectrum, I can come up with vivid worst-case scenarios that contribute to the present’s stress and anxiety. Overall, it would be better if I could just keep my mind in the now. But, oh dear, that’s quite a task.
While discussing her struggle with living in future desires in Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot remembers the words of missionary and martyr Jim Elliot:
“Wherever you are, be all there” (Elliot 1984).
“Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living” (Elliot 1984).
So, basically, don’t be so caught up dwelling on what you want (and don’t have) that your present is spoiled. Instead, live full-heartedly in the present, living for all it’s worth. Harder than it sounds, but I’m working on it.
Then there’s the other part of future-thinking, not so much the longing, but the anxiety, the worry, about what will happen next. I could go with the philosophy of a person who has it even worse then me…Charlie Brown:
“I’ve developed a new philosophy…I only dread one day at a time.”
Or, I can remember what Jesus says in Matthew 6:33-34:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Jesus was living Philippians 4:6-7 perfectly before it had even been written:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It’s so amazing to think that Jesus faced worrying situations just like us but, in his perfection, was not overcome by anxiety. Instead, he went straight to God in prayer. What a perfect example to follow.
I’m so glad for the opportunity to share truths like this. Honestly, I often feel under-qualified and insufficient to be discussing such deep matters on my simple little blog, but I’m glad that others have written the truth so eloquently! Now, as I’m waiting to discover the next step in my life, I only hope that I can put these truths into practice.
This is the second post of the Wise Words Series. Check the other posts out here! The Wise Words Series is simply an opportunity to share some of the truths I’ve discovered in my readings.
Elliot, Elisabeth. 1984. Passion and Purity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell.
Lewis, C.S. 1942. The Screwtape Letters. New York: HarperOne.