By David Hegg
I think it was about my 40th year that I realized how much of my life had been spent living in the future.
So many of my days, months and years had been spent doing those things that had importance primarily because their accomplishment would enable me to do something else later. I remember getting a basketball for Christmas halfway through third grade and practicing hard so that maybe I’d get picked for a fourth-grade intramural team. Then in fifth and sixth grades I set my sights on making the junior high team, and then the high school team.
I worked hard academically so I could go to college, and then learned that college grades were primarily for the purpose of attending the right grad school, which would then set me up for the best post-grad study and career.
And the same type of thinking went into other areas of my life.
We rented so as to save up for a small house, which we then could sell at a profit to get a bigger house, and so on. Even raising children always seemed to have a bit of the perspective that we needed to anticipate the future. Should we buy a 12-months size given that in a few weeks she could be wearing 18-months size? And once she crawled, we had to prepare for the walking stage, and then started thinking about the running, and then we started analyzing schooling choices, and thinking through which soccer team she could qualify for, and soon it was preparing her for boys, and then she was in high school, and we just had to make sure she got into that college, and …
Such is the life when your life today is shaped by the future. Today’s efforts and influences always seem to be preparatory. And while this is good and necessary, it also has a negative residual effect that, over time, can squeeze the joy out of the everyday delights that ought to make each day special.
Take the Christmas season, for example. If you’re like me, you have already traced through the weeks until Dec. 25 and felt the pressure of all the “oughts.” In fact, you’ve probably already begun looking at the seemingly myriad tasks that have to be done in order to get through the season. You’ve penciled in the dates of all the parties, concerts, services, meals, and banquets. And maybe you’ve even scheduled in shopping, housecleaning, cooking and mailing deadlines. Through it all you’ve come to see that the days of Christmas amount to a performance treadmill, and you’re tired before the thing really even gets going. Each day’s tasks are just part of getting through the season, with the joy that should be there siphoned off simply because we’re living, not for the day, but for the day when it will all be over.
But, really now, is it supposed to be this way?
What if we took a break from our “living for the future” mindset, and looked at each day this season from another vantage point? What if we considered each day as a 24-hour gift, wrapped up and offered to us by God, with a set of experiences and opportunities unique among all of history? What if we saw each day as a custom set of hours, the likes of which we would never have again, and once gone, could never be duplicated? And further, what if we determined to live in the day, enjoying whatever that day held, pausing to see what was special about the tasks assigned, the appointments scheduled, the relationships involved?
I must admit I was dreading some of the Christmas tasks this year. As I mentioned a week or so ago, I knew the lights had to go up. I knew that meant getting down all the bins from the garage, testing them, lugging out the ladder, and seeing if the knees and back could traverse the roof one more time. Around the corner would come buying presents, attending all the parties, addressing the Christmas cards, and still finding time to do all the things demanded by my role as a pastor. These were my jobs, and frankly, all I saw was obligation and fatigue.
Then I remembered that our granddaughters would be sharing Christmas with us this year. Everything changed as I imagined their eyes looking at Grandpa’s lights. What changed was my attitude, and it came as I starting looking at Christmas through the eyes of a child. The fact is, children haven’t learned yet to live in the future. They are able to settle down in the moment, finding beauty in the most common places, allowing the wonder of the day to fill them through and through.
So, I’ve decided to live this season in the moment. I’m going to get the most out of whatever is on my schedule each day, and not think that it is really just an obligatory step in a longer journey. No, I’m not suggesting that we give in to the philosophy to “live for today” and not worry about making wise choices. Rather, I am declaring that the best way to ward off the staleness and seeming drudgery of the season is to see each day through the eyes of a child. See each day as another unique gift from God filled with delights that can only be seen and enjoyed if you pause long enough to see and enjoy them.
Today is unique, and so will tomorrow be. Don’t miss it!
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a local resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.