Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6.34)Time in Mind
Christmas closes a marvelous period for me, when time feels suspended in wonder. Although Advent marks time more closely than other seasons, its days combine into something greater than their sum. Then December 26 dawns and New Year’s thoughts pounce. We’re back in the rude clutches of time, reflecting on this year’s missed opportunities, resolving to do better next year. We’ll lose weight. We’ll work harder. We’ll be more attentive. We’ll stop smoking. We’ll live more modestly. We’ve got five days to plan how to pull these resolutions off—five days to brace ourselves for big changes when January 1 rolls around.
By and large, it’s a hollow exercise, because we conjure our grandiose schemes in total darkness about what the future holds. We resolve to save more money and then our employers initiate company-wide pay cuts. Intentions to slim down get foiled by an illness that requires steroid treatment. An unpleasant encounter triggers the search an orphaned cigarette. Worries with car trouble steal attention from our partners, families, and neighbors. Time in mind and real time seldom cooperate. The tomorrows we anticipate rarely materialize. As Ecclesiastes 8.7 says, “Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?”
Stuck in the Moment
When we’re kids, we fantasize about flying and disappearing, growing taller than trees and traveling through time. As we mature, we learn to accept our physical limitations. Yet we never outgrow our desire to master time. Something in us resists admitting we’re stuck in the moment—that today is all we have. We can improve our perception of time by thinking of today as yesterday’s tomorrow. When we compare what we expected to what we experience, we invariably see factors that never crossed our minds threw our plans off-kilter. They can be minor—the extra press of the snooze button that dominoes into a daylong frenzy. They can be so catastrophic they halt time, as happened on 9/11. They can also surprise us by turning out better than we hoped. In any case, life’s wrinkles remind us worrying (or dreaming) about time we’ve not yet reached wastes moments we have. Since that’s where we are, that’s where our primary focus must rest.
In Matthew 6, Jesus warns us not to get overwrought about future issues like what we’ll eat or wear, and He mentions such seemingly trivial matters because, in the final analysis, our hopes and fears basically distill into caring for ourselves. Instead of squandering moments we have on moments to come, Jesus tells us to take a lesson from Nature. Pointing to birds and flowers, He reminds us virtually all other earthly organisms live in the now. Untainted by ill-gotten, Godlike knowledge, they innately trust their Creator to provide for them as He wills. They instinctively place tomorrow in His hands, which is incredibly wise, as He alone knows what it holds. So, while we fret and fritter with our future, being stuck in the moment is all Nature knows. And that’s what Jesus—as both Creator and human—urges us to emulate as He says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (v34)
Too Smart to Live So Wisely
Nature also knows what occurs at any moment depends on God. It accepts its limitations and survives on its Maker’s mercy. Not us. We’re too smart to live so wisely. Assuming we know what’s best for us, we presume to engineer the future in our favor. Instead of piling up yesterdays obsessed with tomorrows, we’re better served by learning today’s lesson. Not everything that happens to us is for, about, or because of us. As inhabitants of God’s intricately constructed, infinitely balanced universe, there will be days when we gain at others’ expense; there will also be days we’re required to sacrifice for another’s survival. That’s why thinking we can shape the future for our benefit is folly. After Ecclesiastes 3.1’s profound declaration, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven,” chapter 7 expands on the principle: “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.” (v14) If yesterday and today proved bigger than we are, why would we imagine tomorrow won’t be?
Jesus says being stuck in the moment relieves us of useless worry. Solomon counsels us to enjoy our blessings and use our trials to ponder our place in the world. Neither remotely suggests mortgaging our future for an aimless existence. Both emphatically stress God’s active role in our lives and teach us the wisdom in yielding our ambitions in order to achieve His purpose. In Jeremiah 29.11-13, we read, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” If we can only resolve abandoning inadequately conceived plans to concentrate on God’s all-knowing plan for our lives, we’ll enter 2010 fearing nothing and expecting everything.
We avoid wasting time on New Year's promises and worries about the future by resolving to concentrate more time on pursuing God's plan for us.