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!

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A Pastor’s Question

“Are you willing to trust God in anything He sends into your life whether you understandannunciation it or not?” That was the question posed by our Pastor this morning. It was posed in the context of what’s known as the Annunciation; where the arch angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary and says:

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

—Luke 1:28

Mary is “very perplexed” (NASB v.29) or even “troubled” (NKJV) by this sudden visitation from the arch angel. Gabriel goes on to encourage her to “not be afraid” then drops the bombshell statement on her:

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”

—Luke 1:31-32

Though you likely know the account of this record, May was currently a virgin. It was impossible for her to conceive except then Gabriel states that God the Holy Spirit, will cover her and she will conceive and bring forth what Matthew refers to as Emmanuel (God with us, Matthew 1:23) and what John the Baptist declared as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, see last week’s post for more on the Lamb of God). In other words, May is going to bring forth God incarnate.

Astoundingly, Mary’s response is:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

—Luke 1:38

mary_josephShe was young; most theologians and biblical historians place her from 14 to 16 years old. And she may have lived a simple life, but she was not ignorant of her culture or ignorant of what she was saying “yes” to. She knew that saying “yes” in her culture would mean significant ridicule up to and including community banishment. Here she was, an unmarried teenage girl and pregnant. Yes, she was betrothed to be married, but she was not married yet, so her fiancée could easily tell her to take a hike; in fact, it is likely that that is what was expected of him—to send her away in shame. And on top of it all she was proclaiming she was still a virgin and carrying the Son of God.

Simply stated, she demonstrated great courage. But not only that; she also demonstrated equally great humility and trust. She trusted God even if she didn’t fully understand His logic or His approach.

This brings us back to the Pastor’s question. Do I have the same trust? Or courage? Or humility?

This question really hit me upside the head today for this reason: pain. I was not intending to blog about this, but I got to thinking about another blogger’s question from earlier in the week. It’s from A Fractured Faith Blog and the post was Why Do You Blog? I blog because I desire to be an encouragement to others and to help make Jesus real for people. So now back to pain.

I evidently haven’t properly healed from this summer’s hernia surgery. My left side has significant muscle and nerve pain. I am now also experiencing pretty serious lower back pain as well. The back pain can at times be so intense that I lose my balance and well up in tears. Just rolling over in bed at night causes intense pain shooting through my back like a thousand hot needles burrowing into me. I pray for healing, but the pain remains relentless. I’ve tried alternative methods of treatments only to have increasing pain by the day. I will go and see my medical doctor later this week. I fear seeing her because I fear what she may find. Actually, she probably won’t find anything but will instead recommend yet another MRI (if so, it’ll be my ninth). I like to fancy myself in robust and indestructible health. I’d like to be able to workout as insanely as I used to. Maybe someday I will; or maybe the insane workouts of my past have contributed to my painful present.

But the question from my Pastor, inspired by a 14-year-old girl from over 2,000 years ago, rings loudly in my brain. Do I still trust God even though I desperately want the pain to go away? And even though I really don’t understand why I must endure this will I still pursue after the Lord?

Honestly, the overall answer is yes, I will still trust God and pursue after Him. But I admit it’s a lot harder to when my eyesight is blurred by pain and I have to be careful with every single move I make, whether making dinner or simply sitting down.

But I also know that, unlike Mary, I’m not alone because many others around me suffer from chronic pain as well. No one has gone through, or will ever go through, what Mary bravely and humbly went through. Perhaps, then, this is where my humility gets a little bit of a test in that I am challenged and humbled by a 14-year-old girl. And, frankly, I’ve never really found inspiration in Mary—that is, until today. Oh sure, like so many I admire her and am definitely grateful for her decision; but this is the first time I’ve found her to be an inspiration to keep-on keepin’ on. Who, except God, knew that it would take me over 50 years to be inspired by one of the greatest persons that ever walked the earth. Yes, we still call Mary blessed (see Luke 1:28, 42 & 45)!