“The duties of each moment are shadows beneath which the divine action lies concealed.” —Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade, S.J.
A few weeks ago, our nine-year-old, Sam, asked me to play a game of Monopoly with him. Mentally sighing as I thought about how long a game of Monopoly might take, I finally agreed to play.
For the first ten minutes or so I was fully engaged. Then I saw an email come through on my phone and I started to read it. I asked Sam to roll the die for me. A few minutes later I remembered that I had to sign up for an event before the day’s end, so I grabbed my laptop and logged into Signup Genius.
“Just a quick sec,” I told him. A text appeared on my phone that I felt I needed to answer, and before long, Sam was not only rolling for me, he was also moving my pieces, collecting the money, and handling the banking.
He was onto me. I put both the laptop and cell phone on the table behind me and promised to re-focus on the present moment and the game of Monopoly. Jesus has asked us to be like little children: “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4)
Children are experts at living in the moment. We, as adults, have a much harder time doing that. And that’s not entirely our fault. We are somewhat hard-wired to live in the past and in the future—it’s instinctual. After all, we learn from our past successes and mistakes, and we are motivated by the things we need to do in the future. Since our minds see time in a continuous and linear fashion, we are constantly moving into the future.
What Keeps Us From Living In The Present?
As Father Miller said this week, it’s not just obligations or distractions that hinder us from living well in the present—it’s also our regrets, worries, anxieties, and fears which keep us either focused on the past or looking toward the future. Yet the Author of all creation gave us time, and He continues to give us the present moment in which to exist. Still, many of us find that it is not easy to be faithful to the present moment when facing life’s challenges and hardships.
When my husband, James, was diagnosed seven years ago with 4th-stage head and neck cancer, I was so overwhelmed by fear of the future that it manifested itself in physical symptoms of stress. Little by little, anxiety and worry took on the form of irrational fear. At the time, Sam—the youngest of our nine children—was only two years old. One night in the midst of my husband’s cancer treatment I woke from a dream totally convinced that I, too, had cancer, and that we could both die. No matter how much I thought about the unlikeliness of that scenario, I couldn’t let it go.
It was the first of many nights in which fear of the future made it impossible to sleep. Before that experience, I had not understood how physical manifestations of stress could become debilitating. James, on the other hand, became laser-focused on the present moment during those months of treatment. I recall his saying that it was the future that was unknown…but the present was right in front of him, so that is where he would try to stay. He researched the various experimental treatments and found a prophylactic for the throat that allowed him to swallow throughout the painful radiation treatments so that he would not become dependent on a feeding tube. His present-focused attitude helped him manage his illness.
The truth is, we don’t really know how we are going to react to the trials of life that each of us must face. James is cancer-free today, and yet he recently confided that it has now become harder to stay focused on the present. He finds that he is more susceptible to the temptation of worrying about those things in the future that are outside of his control.
In the book Still Amidst The Storm, author Conor Gallagher says that it was in the Garden of Eden—where Adam and Eve lived contentedly—that Satan introduced a foreign concept to our first parents: the future. Gallagher explains that the emotion it brought with it was anxiety.
“The serpent placed the notion of the future in Eve’s mind. This knowledge immediately created anxiety in her heart. She felt, for the first time, deprived of something. She felt the future could be better than the present if she broke God’s commandment.”—Still Amidst the Storm
Eve began to doubt God and to question His will. Why should we not be allowed to eat of the fruit? Why this prohibition? What are you hiding from us, Lord? Fear lurks behind my own doubts, and manifests itself in frustration with the way things are in the present moment: Why are things so hard? Why so much suffering? Where are you, Lord?
Recalling the events in the garden of Eden reminds us that the devil loves confusion, anxiety, and disorder. But God does not want us to be anxious. “...do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus says in Matthew 6:34. This is not to say that our emotions aren’t real or that we can just “think good thoughts” and anything bad will vanish. No amount of good thoughts could change my mind during those sleepless nights when I was frozen with fear.
In fact, telling God that we are distressed or worried is sometimes all we can do, and in doing so, we acknowledge His presence with us in all of life’s sufferings. “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, presentyour requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 4:6-7
God is our true “consolation in times of trouble.” In the Good Catholic series, Thy Will Be Done Father Miller gave us a practical way to relax and bring to our minds the loving presence of God, through the senses. It is not hard to practice. Even if I don’t feel an immediate sense of solace, I can learn to lean on God by focusing on what is happening here and now.
Another way to seek God’s help in the present moment is to say “arrow prayers.” These short prayers help to penetrate darkness or fear and direct our thoughts quickly to God, especially when we feel particularly weak, vulnerable, or scared. Anything can become an arrow prayer; even the words “Thy will be done”!
The following are a few of my favorites: “God, make haste to help me.” “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” “Thy Grace is sufficient.” Arrow prayers can be shot up to heaven in a single breath and they only take a second or two to pray. In our Good Catholic series School of Prayer, we learn that the devil hates arrow prayers because they reveal the hope and faith of the one saying them.
Meditate With Scripture
Jesus asks us to become like little children. When children are hurt or scared or frustrated, they usually let us know immediately. In the same way, we can lean on God’s faithfulness in every moment when our own strength is lacking.
Meditate on Psalm 38:17-22. Ask Our Lord to help you call on Him in times of trouble or when you feel anxious in the present moment.
For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.
Many have become my enemies without cause; those who hate me without reason are numerous.
Those who repay my good with evil lodge accusations against me, though I seek only to do what is good.
Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior.
Some Questions for Quiet Reflection:
Do I trust God with the present moment, or do I allow doubts and fears to creep in and take over?
Do I hold onto events or emotions of the past?
Am I anxious about the future?
Can I recognize a time in my life when God’s all-loving will brought suffering?
Do I believe that, even in the case of sins committed against me, God is always in control?
What are some arrow prayers that I can offer to God when I need His help?
Have I considered “Thy Will be done” as an arrow prayer?
This reflection appeared in the Good Catholic series, Thy Will Be Done. To visit all our Good Catholic series click here.