Being Present in the Present

By Bindu Adai-Mathew

Do you remember as a kid how excited you were for Christmas? As soon as Thanksgiving passed, my parents would pull the Christmas tree and decorations out of the attic and we’d start decorating the house. The local radio stations would begin playing all the traditional Christmas songs, and in my mind, I would start the countdown to Christmas. But I wasn’t alone…even the local paper would list the number of days left before Christmas, and all my friends and I would talk about what we hoped we’d be getting that year.

As each day passed, my anticipation grew, and on Christmas Eve, I’d be so restless with excitement, I could barely sleep. Christmas Day was probably the one day where my parents didn’t have to wake me up to get me out of bed. Like most kids, I was the one waking them up that morning. At our house, we couldn’t just immediately open gifts though. We first had to eat breakfast. Then my mom would pull out the Bible and read the Christmas story. We’d sing a carol or two, and then pray. As soon as she or my dad said “Amen,” I almost dove under the tree, grabbed my presents, and mercilessly tore open the painstakingly wrapped gifts. Often more than naught, my Christmas gifts often consisted of clothes, which when you’re in elementary school, aren’t your biggest priority. But even those few times when my parents got me something I actually wanted, a few minutes later, with crushed, torn wrapping paper surrounding me, I couldn’t help but feel…well, disappointed. Christmas Day hadn’t even passed yet, but my excitement for the day had completely vanished. Of course, even as a kid, I knew the real reason for Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but come on, who are we kidding…I was a kid, and I was all about the presents.  But then I’d comfort myself with…well, there was always next Christmas to look forward to…although that seemed so, so far away!

As I got older, I found myself doing the same thing, although the focus wasn’t just on Christmas. Often it was just waiting for my life to change. It was finding the right guy to marry/finding the right job that would fulfill me/ waiting to get published/ not being able to be happy until the “storm” in my life passed/etc. But just like opening the Christmas presents, even when I got something I had been praying for or waiting for, there always seemed to be something else. Something to rob me of my peace. Something to make me feel as if I were never meant to be completely happy or satisfied. And rather than enjoying what I did have, my focus was on the next problem.

Apparently, King Solomon struggled with contentment as well.

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:17-23

Sometimes life does seem like a never-ending struggle. Our efforts and work sometime feel meaningless, especially when despite our hard work, things don’t seem to change or improve.

But one day when I was being particularly whiny about my life and how frustrated and unhappy I felt that I was still struggling with finding that work/life/family balance, a wise friend reminded that I was living a good life. I didn’t have to wait for it to be perfect to enjoy it. It was perfect in its flawed way. And it would always be imperfect. Perfection only lies in heaven, she reminded me.

King Solomon, too, recognized that hard work and struggle were part of our lot in life on this earth. But he also realized that despite the struggle, we should also enjoy our hard work.

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?  Ecclesiastes 2:24-25.

Although it is natural to look forward to the future to the “Fridays” of our lives and want to avoid the “Mondays and Wednesdays,” be careful that you’re not so consumed that you miss the gift of the Present.

Questions: Do you find yourself almost wishing your life away as you wait for those Fridays or just live for special days like Christmas?  What can you appreciate right now about your life?  While there are some things you can’t control, what can you change to improve your life so you enjoy it more?  We’re all consumed by life and the hectic chaos, but challenge yourself this week to be present in the Present and focus on the blessings in your life.

Verse:  So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot.  Ecclesiastes 3:22.

Stripping Down to Nothing

By JMathis

Forget who you want to be.” –AbbyA

I must admit that I am having great difficulty with internalizing these words.

From as far back as I can remember, I have been fueled by crazy, maddening ambitions for myself. Ambitions about career, fame and ministry have always been at the forefront of my mind, and unfortunately, my brain just won’t allow me to forget who I want to be.

I suppose I could euphemistically spin and characterize myself in a positive light–that God has blessed me to be a driven and forward-thinking individual. Indeed He has, but as far as I can tell, this would still be a disingenuous lie. After all, my desires for the future often have very little to do with God and His plans.

In fact, the hard questions that I have been asking lately involve whether the desires of my heart are even truly aligned with the will of God and His very best for my life. How do I really know that I am not using my God-given talents just to push another one of my personal agendas?

While I love the Lord deeply, the more I engage in self-analysis, the more I realize that most of my pursuits have everything to do with my quest for personal greatness—even those very pursuits that I am supposedly doing in God’s name—pursuits such as church-building, helping the homeless, writing this blog.

This desire for personal greatness, this deep-seated need to be recognized and applauded, stem from my sins addressed in I John 2:16: For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.

This verse makes me remorseful and sad. Sad that I have consistently taken credit for God’s work in me. Sad that I have attributed to myself all of the successes, gifts and abilities that He has given and revealed to me over the years. Sad that I haven’t truly given back to my Creator.

Sad that there is still so much left of me.

In this 31-Day Mind-Body-Spirit Challenge, I am looking to strip away the things that are not of my Father. To strip away my desire for the accolades and successes of this world. To strip away my need for material things and worldly adventures. To strip away my compulsion to be better, to be more, to be GREAT.

To strip myself of me.

How do I go about doing that in just 31 days? This very pride that took a lifetime to build? How do you just strip all that away in just one month?

As in strip-poker, where you have to begin somewhere (a toe-ring, a hair clip, a watch), here is a start. A start towards a real future. Will you start this journey with me?

1)      Practice repentance: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10

2)      Practice contentment: “…be content with what you have: for He has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5. “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

3)      Practice patience: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

4)      Practice humility: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4

Practice, practice, practice.

Practice repentance, contentment, patience and humility. Over and over until you are stripped.

Strip away everything that pertains to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Make it a daily exercise to strip yourself of you.

Practice forgetting who you want to be.

It is then you will find Him, so that you can finally hear what He wants you to be.