Are We Almost Here?
Driving on route 71, cutting our way north to visit dear friends John and Holly Keyser, I heard a familiar sound from the back seat:
“Are we here?”
My daughter Emily asks this question a lot lately and I think it’s the cutest thing. What she means is “Are we there yet?” but what she asks is “Are we here?” and Laura and I have no plans to correct her.
Instead we generally chuckle to ourselves and say, “Yes Emmy, we’re here. We’re right here.” Because of course we are always right here. Wherever “here” is, is where we are.
This question has been asked dozens of times in the past few months, but on this particular occasion it struck me differently. It jolted me back into the here and now. I heard my sweet daughter’s voice asking if we were here and suddenly I realized that I wasn’t—not truly. She was “here.” She was present in our van with our family, scenery flashing past her window, brother pestering her in the next seat over, but I was somewhere far away from here.
My mind was caught up in worry, 47 different things vying for my attention, screaming at me about their importance. I need to change those breaks still. Have I paid that bill? When am I ever going to get around to refining and posting those blogs I have written? Why am I putting off reading those books on my reading list? Where did I even put that stinking reading list? How will I find the time to grow and develop in all the ways I want to while still taking care of the day-to-day things that never go away? ...Especially when I can't even keep track of a blasted reading list. With a faraway stare, thinking about all the things I should be doing with the time I feel like I don’t have, I have navigated my heart and mind straight into self-condemnation and a mild depression.
“Daddy, are we here?”
“No sweetie, we’re not. You are. But I am far away, figuring out how to accomplish all the things I think I need to. You are here sweetie but I am far away in a distant world of worry, comparison and self-condemnation. I am living in a world of aught to and should have, regretting poorly spent moments of the past and paying penance for them by figuring out how to better spend my future moments. Meanwhile I am squandering the only moment that is actually mine to have, the one right here. Sorry sweetie, we’re not here yet. You are, but I got lost somewhere along the way."
I can become so focused on who I want to become and what I need to do to get there that I can fail to enjoy being who I am in the present. I am not yet who I aspire to be and I see the many, many steps required to get from here to there. There are myriads of skills and qualities I aspire to attain. If I am honest I am often much more interested in arriving there than being here. So focused on how important it is to get there I can forget that who I am in the here and now is loved by God just as I am and is sufficient for this moment in time.
Who I am becoming is important, but becoming must be balanced and tempered with being.
There are plans that must be made. The future cannot be ignored altogether, but neither can the present. Somehow, someway there must be a balance to be found here.
I was recently talking about some of these things with my wise friend Jared Wigden. He and his family had come out to visit us in Ashland. We were at a nearby lake and Jared was riding my stand-up-paddleboard. While working to keep his balance on this fairly unstable watercraft he felt Jesus speak a simple truth to his heart. “It’s only by remaining balanced in the present that you can properly see what lies ahead of you.” Jared found himself in a sweet spiritual moment where he was able to settle into a balanced position on unstable waters and from that position enjoy a beautiful vista around him. Balanced perspective in the present moment resulted in stable sight.
Are you here? In this moment?
This is not an invitation to beat yourself up for all the times you have failed to be present in the past nor is it a challenge to design your growth plan for being twice as present in the future. This is a simple offering from my wonderfully wise two-year-old daughter Emily: Are you here? Right now, in this moment, are you able to settle in and embrace it for what it is? Leave the past where it is. Let the future be for now. Pleasure or pain, satisfaction or dissatisfaction, beauty or boredom, can you be here for a moment? It’s the only moment you have.
A brilliant devotional writer and former Harvard faculty, Thomas R. Kelly wrote these words in 1941.
“The past matters less and the future matters less, for the Now contains all that is needed for the absolute satisfaction of our deepest cravings. Why want, and yearn, and struggle, when the Now contains all one could ever wish for, and more? ....Between the relinquished past and the untrodden future stands this holy Now, whose bulk has swelled to cosmic size, for within the Now is the dwelling place of God Himself. In the Now we are at home at last.”
Take a deep breath. Let awareness rise. Notice how your body feels in the chair you sit in or in the place you stand. What sights and sounds can you experience around you? Is there sun or breeze on your face? The sound of office coworkers or squabbling children? Settle into the here and now and take a moment to simple be here.
How do you feel? Peaceful? At rest? Hurried? Worried? Successful? Like a failure? Satisfied? Dissatisfied? Jealously? Comparison? Longing? Joy? Courage? Fear? Allow yourself to touch the deepest feeling of your heart and name it. "In this moment I feel _______________________." Don’t judge that feeling or fear it. Let it be.
Now come into awareness of the fact that God is here. He lives forever in the eternal now. This now, this moment, here, is as Kelly says “the dwelling place of God”. Are you here yet? This now, right here, can be the place of encounter, where all that you are and all that you feel comes into contact with God himself. Our generous and kind God is perpetually present to you. We only have to become present to him. This is not about a brand new regime of Christian discipline; it is an invitation to what Brother Lawrence calls the practice of the presence of God and it begins with the simple act of being here in this moment. In brining our awareness into the here and now can we encounter the God who is here NOW. We need not wait for another day or prepare for a more glorious moment. This moment can be a moment of encounter if we let it.
A few miles further down the road, still pondering the impact of my sweet daughter's question, I hear her ask again, “Are we almost here yet?”
“Yes, Emmy, we're almost here. Not quite yet, but we are moving from the myriad of ‘there’s’ that hold our attention to the glorious here and now."