Amanda Woodiel ponders how we spend so much time revisiting the past or planning for the future that we fail to appreciate gifts of the present moment.
Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
I’ve been thinking about this (albeit not while in a room myself) because one unwelcome truth about myself that the Lord graciously revealed to me is that I spend my present planning the future. I am a planner by nature, and I often joke that I’m not happy unless I’m planning something. I’ll plan grocery lists (of course), meal trains for people who need them, church events, the family budget, and even clue hunts for my kids. I spend my now living in what will need to be done.
As I’ve looked around, I’ve seen too that some people spend their present revisiting the past. They might think about what they should have said, the road they didn’t take, re-hashing what other people did, or re-watching videos of happy events.
And all around I see people distracting themselves from the present. Oh sure, some people might be said to live for the present moment. These are people who choose today’s pleasure over today’s sacrifice for a delayed good. Prioritizing today’s gratification is not what I mean; distracting yourself from the present moment through alcohol, addiction, binge-watching Netflix, Facebook-surfing, or any other entertainment is not the same as being attentive to the present moment.
Why is it, I’ve been wondering, that modern man (and maybe man immemorial) has such a difficult time being attentive to the present moment?
Here’s what I’ve realized: God is the great I AM. He is the eternal NOW. He is outside of time, but we humans are in time. If we are going to encounter the living God, it will be in the present moment. For us humans, that is the only place we can meet the I AM. Yes, we can look back and see His action in the past; yes, we can pray for His saving action in the future. But if we are going to encounter the Lord, it will be in the present moment. And that requires us to be present to the present moment.
When we escape the present, whether through planning or brooding or distracting ourselves, part of the impetus, I think, is the reluctance to make ourselves available to God’s presence. It may be habit more than conscious choice, to be sure, but we can change our habits in order to give more of our presence (and present) back to God.
What does this look like? One small step I’ve taken is to plan only what needs to be planned at the time it needs to be planned and only for as long as it takes. I then set it aside and do not think about it anymore. What I’ve found, of course, is that things somehow run smoothly without constant monitoring. It means I make an effort to spend time with my children without thinking about what I will need to do next. Someone who lives in the past might discipline her mind not to review events any more than prompted to by the Spirit. For all of us, it could mean we don’t pull out our phones every time we are sitting with a free moment on our hands.
We all say we want to encounter God in our daily life; this Advent, I invite you to make a conscious effort to live in the present moment as much as you can and wait for His appearance. He will come.
Copyright 2021 Amanda Woodiel
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About the Author
Amanda Woodiel is a Catholic convert, a mother to five children ages 11 to 3, a slipshod housekeeper, an enamored wife, and a “good enough” homeschooler who believes that the circumstances of her life -- both good and bad -- are pregnant with grace. She leads a moms' group at her parish that focuses on simple and meaningful ways to live the liturgical year at home. Amanda blogs at In a Place of Grace.