Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The enemies of "oughts" and "ifs"

It's been awhile- a long while-since I stepped inside a "Christian" bookstore. I don't tend to find the books that I'm interested reading in that spot. And, there are plaques and posters with pithy sayings, like: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift- that's why they call it the present." I think I'll pass on the mug.

You can find this stuff at Hallmark stores, thrift stores, and, somewhere in Boulder, there has to be a store with these trinkets. Not just Christian bookstores. One of the quips, whether it is a ditty on a Hallmark card or in some self-help book or in a conversation, is that living in the present moment is what we aim for. Not in the past or in the future, but now. Here and now.

"Here and now." Ahh, that's the title of a book I just finished. By the late Henri Nouwen. This idea of living fully in the present is not a new concept, and it sounds rather simple; it's not a complex idea. It's not like some of my college philosophy textbooks where, after reading the same page five times, I was still scratching my head! But, just because it is a simple notion doesn't mean it is easy to live this out in my life. Far from it.

Here's the way Nouwen put it, "The real enemies of our life are the 'oughts' and the 'ifs.' They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future." (p.18) I messed up and ought to have done it differently. Or, I had an opportunity to take positive action and I didn't; I should have. The other end is the enemy of the "what if." What if I never get married? What if the economy doesn't clear up and I can never get a job with security? What if something happens to my health?

Now, there is a positive dimension to looking into our past and learning from either mistakes (or, I'll use the "sin" word) or hurtful experiences, and taking time to consider goals, dreams or visions for one's future. That is quite different from the "oughts" and "ifs."

I'm inclined to think we gravitate, for any number of reasons, more toward the "ought" or "if" side. The catch, if it toward the "oughts," is the drain of guilt. If you are prone to the "what ifs," you will get snagged with anxiety or worry. I land on the side of the "ifs" when I am not operating out of living in the present.

What is it for you? "Oughts"- and then, guilt? Or, "ifs"- and then, anxiety?

What I hear in Jesus' words, and see in his life, and the good news of the Kingdom he came announcing, is clearly about the present. "The Kingdom is here among you!" Enter this abundant life- now! Love God. Love others. Share your life, especially, with the poor, outsider, broken, and people who are marginalized.

It is far too simplistic to suggest that we can always live in the present, and avoid the "oughts" and "ifs," and the corresponding and crippling guilt or worry. But, it is realistic to propose that we can live more and more in the present, rather than focused on the past or future.

I need reminders; that's why I read such books. Why I read scripture daily. That's why community is important for me.

Here and Now. Good reminder. Let's keep reminding each- both in words and action.

Anyone have a pithy slogan for this to put on a plaque, mug and t-shirt?... No; forget it.

1 comment:

Barb said...

Glad you shared your blog address with me. Thought provoking - inspiring comments.