The Challenge of Here & Now

One of the main ways to gain more readers is to blog frequently and consistently. I’m where_noweak in both areas. I desire to improve in these areas, but January added a new dimension in daily life; that is, I’m back in grad school, this time in a doctorate program. Yes, it’s my own decision to pursue this next level of study, and I do enjoy it; but WOW, does it take a lot of time. My normal blog writing time is now commandeered by paper-writing. Alas, somehow, I’ll figure out how to return to consistency!

In the meantime, however, I’ve been pondering the future; more specifically, my future. I’m not pursuing a doctorate degree for laughs and giggles, but because I have a dream of a second career. And even though I’ve blogged before about being a dreamer; I’m also realizing some significant drawbacks in always looking toward the future.

A first drawback is future-looking makes living in the present difficult. A portion of my mind is focusing on something else. This means that I’m not giving 100% attention to the here-and-now, I’m not fully living in the moment. Instead, what ever is going on or whom ever I’m talking with, is only getting partial attention. This means I am not fully present in the discussion and I miss details or fail to grasp the significance or gravity the situation poses for the other person.

In recognizing this propensity, I’ve been able to adapt new thought-behaviors. I’m intentionally reigning in my thinking so that I can better zero in on the moment. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Part of the discipline of living in the moment is stilling my inner voice. Much of my internal thinking is verbal, so I need to quiet that inner verbosity so that I can focus on the external stimuli coming in from the outside. If the external stimuli run into the wall of inner verbosity, then that stimuli becomes diffused, losing much of its impact. But stilling the inner voice opens this wall like a curtain of a stage and the stimuli can stand on the stage of my mind unhindered.

A second noticeable drawback about future-looking is that, since the desired future is not here yet, discontentment can move in, clouding the skies of joy that God is intending for us. Such discontentment filters the present into nothing but tasks to accomplish, hurdles to leap, or moments to hurry through. Such filtering leads to the development of unrealistic expectations which eventually lead to disappointment. If left unmitigated, such thinking will lead to attempts at overcoming the disappointment by setting even loftier goals, eventually leading to more profound disappointment. It is a doom cycle of thinking that the more I do the better life will be. It is dehumanizing and perpetually self-defeating; devoid of any sense of God’s peace or contentment (see Philippians 4:4-7 and 11-13).

The antidote? Prayer and balanced thinking. God encourages us to bring our concerns to Him so that He then can bring peace into our souls. Alongside this is also realizing that balanced thinking is important. It is important to have dreams and goals; these give us reasons to keep on keeping on. They breed a desire to not settle but to continue to explore improvement.

But they must be balanced. Or to put it another way, we need to be more grounded in the reality of our present situation. I only have so much time in a day; so I need to carefully make room to be present in whatever situations come my way. I still have task lists, but they need to be somewhat flexible. If everything doesn’t get done today, there’s always tomorrow’s list. If someone needs my help now, then I need to recognize that they deserve me to be fully present; this is right thing to do, and I can always return to the other thing I was doing at a later time.

So, here’s to being content in the present moment!


A Forced Rest and Contentment

“Forced rest” was a phrase a friend of mine used a few weeks ago during a prayer time. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot since then. The phrase wasn’t directed at me but even so, it got my attention. The pain in my lower back is so intense that I am forced to seriously edit what activities I engage in. Typically, I’d be ultra-busy during my vacation; there are workouts to do, hikes to take, blogs to write, books to read, home improvement or other fixer upper stuff to do, and so on. Instead, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on my rump simply reading or journaling.

Then yesterday my devotional was about contentment; another area that has recentlycontentment garnered my attention. Pain sometimes causes contentment to be elusive if not wholly absent. Still, Scripture states we are to learn contentment.

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.

—Philippians 4:11

Paul is stating that he had to acquire the knowledge to be content in all circumstances. Such learning is an active pursuit of knowledge with the goal of applying that knowledge in everyday life. In other words, Paul is continuing to expand his understanding of contentment. Interestingly, contentment actually means “self-sufficient;” however, Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes onto say in verses 12 and 13 that he has learned to be content when life is going well and when life is not going well. But he is careful to note that this ability, this learning, is enabled “through Christ who strengthens me” (v. 13). No, this isn’t some sort of mystical strength allowing Paul to somehow change his circumstances through enhanced faith; it’s much more practical than that. It is the Holy Spirit enabling Paul to contentedly endure whatever circumstances he’s facing.

This is easier said than done, of course. One exercise that helps me in contentment is from a song in the movie White Christmas, “Count Your Blessings.” It is so simple to do and yet, for some reason, seems archaic; but it works. For instance, despite the pain, I have a family that loves me that includes a wonderful Bride that is cheerfully picking up chores I’m currently unable to do, two healthy sons that are loving and helpful, a beautiful home, great friends, a career I enjoy…you get the point. To my knowledge, Paul had none of these. In fact, many Bible scholars and historians suggest that Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Hello!? In prison and he’s still writing about contentment? That’s a sobering thought; so who am I to wallow in self-pity? Contentment is a much happier space to be in.

Another tool I’ve discovered on my journey toward contentment is to stop the “what-if-ing.” Though no specific event caused my current pain, I still am tempted to second-guess things I’ve done in my past that may have contributed to increased wear and tear. This is fruitless and only leads to self-shame.

I also strive to stop daydreaming about what I wish I was doing. We recently bought some snowshoes, but they’re still in their packaging in the garage. My bike is primed and ready to ride, plus the weather has been decent; but it, to, sits in the garage. And I’ve recently learned about some hiking trails close to home we’ve never ventured on. None of these activities are doable right now; so why focus on them in wishful bitterness?

I can still walk and do a few other little “exercise-y” things, so I’m choosing to embrace those with thankfulness. And, of course, I pray—often! I pray that my joy may be full (1 John 1:4, John 15:11 & 16:24), that my peace may be deep (Philippians 4:7), that my love is real (Matthew 5:44, John 13:35 & 15:12-13, Romans 12:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and, of course, for healing (Matthew 4:23, Acts 9:34 and 1 Peter 2:24).

Leaning into Christ will enable us to endure through any circumstance with contentment. And one day, all pain will cease (Revelation 21:4); but until that day, we can be thankful that the Lord is with us no matter what we are going through.