Last week while reading Frederick Buechner’s memoir The Eyes of the Heart, an observation he made about his deceased younger brother got my attention. Comparing his brother to himself he wrote, “I want to get it right about the way he took life as it came instead of, like me, brooding about the past or worrying himself sick about the future.” Read what he said again and consider which brother you are most like.
I wish I was more like his brother, but I am clearly more like the older Frederick. I wish I was better at taking life as it comes, but the truth is I spend too much time, energy, and heart brooding about the past and worrying about the future. How about you?
You and I both know people who are robbing themselves of a fulfilling life in the present because of what happened in their past. To get a better sense of its meaning I looked up brood in the dictionary. It means “to think a lot about something in an unhappy way” or “to dwell gloomily on a subject.”
We all have things in our past that negatively impacted us. The challenge is to keep those hurts and failures from destroying our present. It doesn’t mean we are not sorry for what we did or deeply hurt by what happened to us; nor does it mean we cannot learn from the past. But for our own good we need to deal with the past so that in the words of the Apostle Paul we can “forget what is behind” and “press on” (Philippians 3:13 and 14). Admittedly, for a lot of us that is easier said than done; but as trite as it sounds, we can’t go back. I do know, however, that talking with a counselor can be a great benefit for some who are so wounded by their past they struggle in the present.
We also know people who are too focused on and concerned about the future that they are treading water in the present. For me this is a bigger issue than brooding about the past. One morning last week after my prayer time I jotted down this question to myself: “Am I worrying so much about the future that I am not enjoying today?”
When I think about this habit I am reminded of Jesus’ teaching about worry in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:23-34. After a commonsense discussion about worry Jesus concludes in verse 34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In this teaching Jesus is not forbidding our planning or preparing for the future. In the words of Archibald Hunter, Jesus is giving us a principle of living that “taking reasonable care, we are to face life trustingly, accepting each day fresh from God, and leaving the unknown in his hands.” In others words, rather than living a life of worry, we are to live a life of faith.
If I can borrow from Buechner, I too want to get it right about the way I take life as his brother did—as it comes. Both yesterday and tomorrow can be enemies of today. We can’t live either in the past or in the future. To get it right we must live in the present.
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