Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Gift Called "The Present"

This article is dedicated to my pastor, Greg Davis, who's courage, transparency and spiritual maturity have impacted my life over many years, but most especially in the last year since he was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma.  He is currently cancer free but has been told that there is a near certainty that his cancer will return at some point.

On this particular Sunday, Pastor Greg was experiencing symptoms that could indicate a recurrence.  He shared openly with us in his sermon about the fear that had dug its claws into his soul and was flinging him about like a helpless squirrel in the teeth of a ravenous wolf (my analogy, not his).

As I took in the reality of what he was saying, God intervened in my thoughts with a visual that would burn itself into my soul in a most unforgettable way:  I saw a high mountain with a narrow path running along its ridge line.  On one side was a storm tossed ocean with waves crashing against the rocks.  On the other was a seething volcano, spewing smoke and lava.  What I understood of this picture was that the path along the ridge represented the present.  It was safe and full of peaceful beauty.  To deviate from the past was to plunge headlong into either the deadly rocks of the past or the fiery torment of of the future.

I was asked to share this picture with the congregation and afterwards, a young man who had heard my words, went home and painted the vision. I was truly stunned by the accuracy and vividness with which he portrayed this scene.  I had intended to paint this picture myself as I am an artist.  But I am convinced I could not improve on his fine work.

Artist: Mattie Houston, age 13
Allow me to explain this picture more:  We often fail to experience the abundant life God has for us because we are either absorbed in guilt, resentment and/or regret from the past.  The same can happen because we are anxious, fearful or worried about the future.

I once heard a quote that sums this up quite well:

“The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift—that’s why they call it ‘the present’".

The past and the future are toxic to the abundant life God has for us.  God intended us to come to Him as little children, and one of the most enduring qualities of young children is that they live fully in the present, pouring their joy, energy and enthusiasm into whatever is happening at the moment, whether it is a a bubble, a silly face or a game of peek-a-boo.

Now don't get me wrong here.  As a therapist, I spend a lot of time helping clients deal with past hurts and future fears.  When the present allows us to take action to remedy the past (such as giving or asking forgiveness) we are to attend to that unfinished business.  Likewise, when the present provides opportunity to prepare for the future in a way that will facilitate something coming to pass that we wish to see happen, or to avert some impending disaster, we are also to attend to that.

What we are to avoid at all costs is to plunge ourselves into the past or future in a way that causes us to loose our focus on the present.

Our relationships are affected by this also.  In our families we often bring to bear our history with that person, causing us to assume we know exactly what they are doing and why and what they will do next because of their past behavior.  Bringing up the past and pronouncing the future are both signs of dirty fighting.

The truth is, that who we have been and what we have done often keeps us from being who we can be right now.

Therapy is a process that often involves leaving behind bad messages that we have received in the past and seeing ourselves as God sees us now.

Philippians 3:13
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

As for the was once calculated that only 10% of the things we fear and worry about actually occur.  What a waste of our life and energy!  The Bible uses the phrase "fear not" 63 times!

Romans 8:37-39
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Living in the present is our path to communion with him and peace in our hearts and minds.  We will find freedom from worry, fear, resentment and guilt.  When those things are not filling our thoughts, we are able to receive the abundant life God has for us.  Hallelujah!