Real and true faith in Christ is profoundly practical. It will, indeed must, ultimately present itself in your body, which is a way of saying that if Christ has his way with you, he will change your relationship with money, sexuality, vocational choices, consumer choices, and much more that’s outward. But most significant will be the inner change, the soul change. This will ultimately present as a capacity to be fully present, every single moment, every single day. True faith, in other words, is intensely practical, in that it frees us from regrets of the past, fear of the future, and aversion to the discomforts of the present. We become fully human, fully present, and fully alive.
But for many of us, this sense of being fully alive eludes us. One author explains our predicament this way: Carl Jung once had a conversation with a Native American chief who pointed out his perception that most white people have tense faces, staring eyes, and a cruel demeanor. He said: “They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something. They are always uneasy and restless. We don’t know what they want. We think they are mad.”
The madness comes from our unwillingness or inability to do the very thing Jesus invited us to do. He said, “so do not worry about tomorrow” inviting us to take our cue from birds and flowers more than motivational speakers or “successful” people. Those motivated mostly by a drive to produce and acquire, have climbed to some sort of top and become the envy of others, but are missing the peace, joy, contentment, and capacity to live fully present in each moment that is both the gift and calling of what it means to be human.
You see them often. They’re unable to listen to you fully because they’re on the phone at the same time. They’re unwilling to face discomfort, choosing rather to deny or avoid it, and so remain insulated from the important shaping that comes from being cold, or hungry, or having hard yet honest conversations where there’s give and take, and real listening to the heart of the other. The “they” I’m speaking of is “we”, is “me”. We’re on this journey towards learning to live in the present together.
The fully alive human will, like David, mourn deeply, face challenges courageously, and dance with ecstasy. There will be real tears and facing of pain, and real moment by moment delight in conversation, food, weather, birdsong, good drink, and whatever else unfolds.
Life is lived in the present - Go there fully
When Jesus says “don’t worry about tomorrow” his word for worry literally means “to be divided”. Worry robs our capacity to be 100% present in each moment because we’re divided between this conversation and our planned response, or our next meeting, or the vacation we’re looking forward to, our the doctor visit we’re dreading, or the anger we’re still feeling over the email we received three hours ago, or our hunger and our plans to alleviate it, or our fear that the person who coughed at Trader Joe’s will leave a virus on our oatmeal box we were planning on buying, or….
You get the picture. Jesus was so fully present each moment that when a woman in the midst of a crowd pressing against him, touched his coat in search of healing, he stopped and said, “who touched me?” He was aware, not just of her presence, but of her need because he was, I believe, hyper-aware of his environment, fully present to the moment.
I experience moments like this sometimes, especially when skiing or climbing or writing, perhaps because such activities demand total focus. We all know that this “fully present” way of being is the best way to live. We’re just not sure how to get there. Developing habits of meditation is one way, because by meditating on my identity in Christ, I come to a resting place of security and in that place of security, I’m able to live out from the strength of knowing that Christ is with me, and in me, and that I have all that I need for whatever the present moment holds. Therefore, I find myself increasingly freed from aversion to suffering, and so able to be in the present fully.
There’s a time for everything - accept the moment
My daughter participated in a wilderness based Bible course in the Alps one summer, and part of the experience included spending a night in a cave, where the temperature hovered just above freezing. Toss in a good dose of dark and wet, and the night became “uncomfortable” to say the least. Her guide quoted that famous Bible passage from Ecclesiastes and said, ‘there’s a time for everything’, and then added, “this is your time to be cold”. Indeed. If our presuppositions in life are that hunger, thirst, cold, loss, and pain are states to be vigorously avoided, “aversion to suffering” will dictate our choices.
To the extent that we live by the mantra of “avoid suffering,” the truth is that our aversion to discomfort will cause us to miss the life for which we’re created. We’ll often be guarded and fearful, and surely unhappy when discomfort does come our way. This same guardedness will also prevent unbridled joy from finding expression. Shave your willingness to suffer off of one end of your emotional scale, and you’ll shave off your capacity for joy on the other end, that’s just the way it works.
David, who wrote most of the Psalms, offers an example of courageously walking into each moment and experiencing it fully. We find him fully present to confession, lament, and anger. He walks fully into moments requiring boldness. And because he’s committed to facing the hard moments and living in them fully, he also enjoys the good moments more. He’s the one who dances with unselfconscious joy as he worships. He’s the one who pays attention to the beauty of creation and lets himself be ravaged by it. He’s the one who plays music, so beautiful that it can soothe a madman’s soul. Success and failure. Popularity and public shame. Strength and weakness. Joy and sorrow. David was fully present to all it - because he lived authentically in each moment. Anything less is less than fully living.
There’s a next step - take it
“Mindfulness” means paying attention to what you’re doing at this very moment and it provides the clearest path forward. Some Christians scoff at the word, deeming it too ‘eastern’. In reality though, it’s just a way of saying, “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) or “so whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).
This moment you’re reading. Read, for God’s sake. When you’re finished, you’ll do the next thing. What is it? Whatever it is, whether it’s watching a show, getting your heart to beat faster by exercising, calling a friend, having a hard conversation, writing a note of encouragement, or preparing a meal - for God’s sake: be all there! Absorb the experience, and respond with joy and gratitude, or face the cold and wet, or the uncertainty, and be present with it.
Yesterday’s gone. Tomorrow doesn’t exist.
This moment: Is. Your. Life.
Jump in and live it fully