In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes,
“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity… He [God] would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present — either meditating on the eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”
I am very bad at living in the present; my mind has always preferred to set up house in the future. My anxious and imaginative thoughts are very keen on trying to anticipate all future possibilities of all future situations, for good or ill. Even when I am anticipating good and happy things in the future, it can often cause me to ignore that good and happy things are happening in the present.
I am particularly guilty of not appreciating the seasons and whichever one I am currently in. In the winter, I am overwhelmed by the dark and ache for more sunlight. In the spring, I am counting down to summer vacations. In the summer, I am oppressed by the heat and long for cooler air. In the fall, I am perhaps the most content, but still dread the holiday ramp-up and can’t wait for January. This can apply to seasons of life as well; I am often looking ahead to whatever the next stage might be, whether it’s a big trip, a job opportunity, a potential romance, etc. I often feel miserable while I am actively working on a writing project, and yet look forward excitedly as I am planning the next one. You would think I would have learned to enjoy the actual process by now, wouldn’t you? I don’t think I am alone in this either; if you are single but longing for a spouse, or are married and have young children, or are in school and working and constantly on the go, each stage of life comes with trials but also with grace and joy if we know where to do look. But we have to look.
Since my emancipation from social media apps, I feel that I’ve become much more aware of the present. Not that I am always better at appreciating it, but at least I am more conscious of it. Instead of fleeing to my smartphone during uncomfortable social situations, I am forced to sit in those situations, sometimes painfully aware that there are other human beings involved that are probably just as uncomfortable as I am. When I am bored, I have to look at the environment around me for stimulation, or else reflect on my own thoughts. Rather than try to capture the perfect picture of any given experience, I try to just fully experience that experience.
In her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle says, “… we often find ourselves bored because we have become accustomed to a constant feed of connection, information, and entertainment. We are forever elsewhere.” I have spent a lot of time in that Elsewhere. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram to see what other people are doing, searching through Pinterest and imagining different possibilities of a future life, or just texting absent friends rather than simply talking to the people in the same room. The stream of constant stimulation that technology now provides us also allows us to constantly absent ourselves from the current moment.
Lewis says that “the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” God is present in all of time, and for Him all of time is the present. For us, the past is fixed and cannot be altered and the future is amorphous and cannot be known. It is the present that we can truly experience, can affect, can enjoy. The present is the closest that we can come to understanding how God experiences all of eternity, as something tangible and real.
As fall schedules gear up, as the holidays slowly creep closer, let us be sure that we are enjoying each day and each moment that we are given. As Lewis says, let us focus on “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”