to live but never living”
– ralph waldo emerson
i get completely random and weird thoughts here and there (more like all the time). yesterday when i was sorting laundry (yeah, just imagine how much we have with 7 of us in the house and everyone playing sports) i was thinking about church stuff and life stuff and how utterly entangled they can be. what’s true for one is probably true for the other. and here’s the simple (i’m not trying to profess it’s profound) thought i had: when it comes to church, most leaders don’t know how to live in the “now”. when it comes to life, most people don’t know how to live in the “now.” we are almost always looking toward something in the future. it is somehow much easier to do that than to live in the present, notice what is right before us–the good, the bad, the ugly–and be willing to stay there instead of avert our eyes and heart and time to what’s ahead.
with all this talk about missional church the past few days i have been thinking about my church ministry experience over the years. here’s what i noticed: almost every conversation and meeting was most always about something in the future….”where are we going? what do we need to do next? how do we find new leaders that can start some new things in the future? how do we develop that next group? when can we launch that next program? where do we want to go with this ministry? what is happening in the fall?…” almost never have the conversations been about what was happening NOW. we would maybe do a check in here and there on “how things were going” but then the conversation always went toward “what was next and how we could make things better, bigger, more strategic.” ugh! argh! how sad! what happens in this oh-so-typical model is that we miss out on the beautiful and powerful presence of God’s work in the moment. we become insatiable, like what “is” isn’t enough and we must do whatever we can do to get “more.”
i was thinking about this “what’s next” attitude in the context of relationship–it’s kind of like saying to the people our lives now–“umm, i am glad you are here, but i really will like you more when you do this or that or that or this” instead of saying “hey, i am so thankful for you in this moment, you are beautiful and amazing just like you are.” churches subtly (and directly) do this to the people who are part all of the time.
i noticed something wonderful today. i am in a community that doesn’t focus too much on the future. it drives me crazy sometimes, i will readily admit, but i think the refuge is teaching me an important lesson that will serve me well if i can stay with it instead of run too far ahead. now is enough. celebrate what’s right here. notice the beauty of relationship right now, even if it’s not all i wish it were. right now is all we have anyway, so why not stay with it instead of missing it all by looking to the future? (isn’t that a piece of what Jesus was getting at when he told us not to worry about tomorrow?) again, i know good leaders out there are going “but it’s our job to look ahead for people!” i am not dismissing that we have responsibilities that include vision, but i am just wondering how distracted and frenzied so many church leaders are because they are never able to live and enjoy the now. and i am also wondering if focusing on the future is a way of avoiding living in the present, in the reality of current relationships that need tending to that have absolutely nothing to do with strategy or the future. let’s face it, loving now is way harder than planning & strategizing. hmm, just a thought.
when it comes to our own personal lives, i think the same things apply. so many of us are not satisfied with our current life. it’s not quite what we had hoped and we are always wishing for something different. so we start dreaming (which i am obviously a huge proponent of!) but instead of our dreams being something good–treasured and held in some kind of wonderful tension–they sometimes turn on us and make us feel worse about our current situation. we become painfully aware of all we “aren’t doing” instead of celebrating all we are. this is where i land a lot. i like my life, i really do, but sometimes it just feels like i missed something along the way. “how in the #*!&!^!)@( did i end up here?” is a question i ask myself a lot. yes, life’s good, but definitely not what i thought it would be and i sometimes consume my thinking with the “what if’s” and “what else’s.” clearly this thinking distracts and consumes me, and i miss out on the beauty and glory and wackiness of “what is.” i am not saying we are supposed to settle and not dream and wish for more. but what i’m wondering is how much i miss, we miss, by living life in our heads, in the future, instead of living life with our hearts now. yep, sometimes the now sucks, no doubt, it’s not all that we want it to be and sometimes it’s just downright gnarly. i am always neck-deep in the reality that life is far from easy for most people. but i still believe we need to strain to see the beauty in the pain, the glory in the ugly, notice what’s good, true, noble, trustworthy in the midst, and stay in instead of run & avoid.
i have been chuckling today, thinking about what would happen if church leaders took one year and practiced the presence of the now, not doing one thing to look ahead or strategically plan a single ministry or program but spent all of that energy, money, and time noticing & cultivating the relationships that were right in front of them. yeah, i am smart enough to know that is utterly impossible, but it does make me smile to think about.
but i really can’t be finger pointing at the moment. it is so in my nature to wonder and wish and plan and regret and miss out on what’s blaringly good right here, right now. so the challenge to myself really is: can i do it? can i quit looking ahead and just be satisfied today, with all it’s craziness & all it’s beauty? can i celebrate the goodness of what is? of who is?
please, God, help me, help us, live in the now.