The delicate balancing act

Balance. It’s not an easy thing to do. And no one gets it right all the time.

Following Jesus’ teaching to focus on today’s worries while remembering lessons from the past and preparing for the future is a lifetime task. A series of challenges that shift as we move through our life, as our present becomes the past, as our future becomes smaller.

No, we don’t know the day or the hour, but actuarial tables tell us a 20-year-old has a good chance of living at least another 40 years. A 60-year-old, not so much. Some of us have a future that seems to stretch on endlessly. Others, a long, long past that suddenly is over.

No matter our age, we have now. Right now. Right here.

And that’s what Jesus is talking about when he tells us: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? ... Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? ... All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil” (Mt 6:25, 27-28, 32-34).

He’s right, of course. He always is. Yet, it was his mother, Mary, who looked back on what had happened to her as a new mom and “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). It was she who, as the mother of a 12-year-old son lost in the Temple, “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51).

And it was Jesus who, on the night before his death on the cross, “prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ ... He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Lk 22:41-42, 44).

Remembering the past. Sometimes fearfully looking to the future. Of course Mary and Jesus did that. All humans do. (Although, as you know, Jesus was also fully divine.)

Tips and tricks

With that in mind, a few items to consider:

1. A key to getting the present “right” is to “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33). To do God’s will for us today. That means figuring out what it is, specifically. And some of that discerning may have taken place in the past. And some of it may be planning for how to do his will in the future.

2. Our past influences our present; and our present determines our future. Each is important, although we have zero control over the past and limited control over the present.

What we can do is take advantage of past blessings: a loving family, a solid education, the gift of faith. And what we can do (at times with the help of a confessor, spiritual director, counselor or therapist) is take a look at the disadvantages: a dysfunctional family, limited schooling, little or no religious upbringing. We can work on better understanding what happened back then, and why it did. We can examine or re-examine how those things influence our choices and behaviors now and if, or how, we want them to continue to do so. Then, too, confession is good for the soul, the body, the present and the future!

Bottom line: There’s a huge difference between living in our past and learning from it.

3. Jesus wasn’t saying “eat, drink and be merry.” He was telling us not to become crippled with fear about what might happen. Spoiler alert: Some of it’s going to be bad stuff. But you’re familiar with imperfect life on earth.

What he’s saying is to be like the five wise women in The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, the ones who had enough spare oil and were ready when the Bridegroom showed up unexpectedly (c.f. Mt 25:1-13). His point is we’re to continue preparing for our own death by “storing up” acts of charity and love for others.

Daily doing God’s will for us, paying attention to his plan for us, loving him and serving him by serving others — that’s how we “shine,” how we bring light to a dark world.

4. And finally, it can be a blessing to fondly remember the people, events, choices, and graces that make up our past. It can be a delight to do that with those who shared those days, those parts of our lives. We can marvel at the good and pat ourselves on the back for surviving the bad.

It can be a gift from God to know God’s will for us today and be able to live that, in ways small or large. To discover the particular vocation he’s called us to at this point on our journey. It can be a comfort, a precious relief, to know that the God who took care of us in the past, who is with us in the present, will never abandon us in the future.

Our God who is, who was and who always will be, has known you and loved you since before all time. And he will be doing that forever. For infinitely past the end of time.

Bill Dodds writes from Washington.

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