Whether it is the best of times
or the worst of times,
it is the only time we have.
Confessing my own limitations, I am very unzen-like, uncalm, unquiet, in internally nonpeaceful. My moments go by worried too much about the future, trying to prelive all possible events, or regretting my past and attempting to avoid reliving any painful past experience. “Now,” “being present,” and “in the moment” are foreign to me.
Though a pastor, I find the teachings of Jesus more difficult than the creeds about virgin birth, resurrection, or ascension. I struggle more with passages like this one from The Sermon on the Mount,
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
In order to learn what I do not comprehend, we started a community in Nashville focused on singers and songwriters that we called The Moment. The blog posts that follow are some of our practices that have helped us to become more present beginning with this one,
SAY, “FOR THE MOMENT…”
A king gave one of his servants a challenge, he said, “Go and find a ring that will make a happy person sad and a sad person happy.” The servant searched the jewelers and merchants in every surrounding village and kingdom, and then he returned years later.
The king asked, “You’ve found a ring that can make a sad person happy and a happy person sad?”
The servant nodded and gave the ring to the king who looked at it closely then said to his servant, “Well done. Surely, this is a ring that can make a sad person happy and a happy person sad.”
The inscription inside the ring was, “For the moment…”
To the person with a painful illness or some other terrible burden to bear, “For the moment…” reminds him or her it won’t last forever. To the rich, successful, or the young, “For the moment…” can result in grief knowing it won’t last forever.
Reminding myself of my moments helps me appreciate them. The poet Shiki pointed out how we can miss our moments with others if we are not attentive,
When I looked back
The man who passed
Was lost in the mist.
I started saying, “…for the moment,” and found the simple phrase to be liberating. Here is what the practice looks like for me.
I say, “I’m married for the moment.” This is not some ominous expectation of divorce or death, but a recognition that neither Carrie nor I are the same people we were two decades ago. Each of us has changed in ways we didn’t expect, plan, or envision. If I don’t recognize our ongoing development, then I’ll say things like, “You always…” when she actually never alwayses. I will become historical (no, not hysterical). I will bring up prior wrongs, prior slights, prior moments that I never lived in the past but for some unknown reason seem to want to bring them out in the present. There is nothing like the past to ruin the present, nothing like yesterday to ruin a relationship today, and nobody like me to keep trying old patterns hoping for different results. Even though I want to be with Carrie in the moments of our relationship, at times, I seem to come at her. If she does not feel as I do, I try to impose on her whatever emotion I have. When I am “Married for the moment,” then I can be with her, sharing a space in time. Yesterdays stay in the past. Tomorrows stay in the future. Now is what we share.
I also remind myself, “I am a parent for the moment.” Our oldest daughter just started college. My relationship with her requires a different approach than ten years ago. Those childhood moments are gone. For her to go to college, I have had to grow up, grow into a new phase, and a new way of relating. With all three of our children, when I think I am an expert and know what they need labeling ‘their’ problems and prescribing for them what they should do, I create distance between us. They are each individuals. What is helpful for one may have the opposite result with another. Being in our moments requires less certainty and more curiosity.
With our new adventure in The Moment, I claimed a new title for myself and use it often as a reminder. “I am Pastor for The Moment.” This role won’t last forever. How can it? The church is called, “The Moment.” Perhaps, The Monument, The Memorial, or even The Movement might offer more longevity. Moments don’t last, but they don’t have to. Pastors have a great temptation to try and be “meaningful and lasting”. Churches love legacies even though lasting is the way of Emperors and Pharaohs. The Jesus Irony is that the one we call ‘Savior’, in our terms, saves by not saving. He does not try and save the disciples, his family, his synagogue, his Jewish tradition, his nation, his teachings (nowhere does Jesus ever tell someone, ‘Write this down! This is really good!” The only time we have a record of Jesus writing anything was in the sand, and we don’t know what he wrote. No one saved it.) He does not even try to save himself. He just opens his arms wide on the cross and looks to God in the most horrible of moments.
For adults in our various roles, we are often tempted to try reliving our past to get it right or preliving our future to keep ourselves and those we love free from pain and problems. As a helpful role model to life, Jesus pointed to a child and said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like this child.” The Philosopher Heraclitus said similarly, “Time is a game played beautifully by children.” What children do naturally that adults don’t is let go of one stage of life in order to receive the next. My children, through their years in school, never expected one grade to last. They knew they were there for the year, and at the appropriate time, would leave one grade, one space, one age, for the next. I am trying to relearn from them what I have forgotten as ‘Pastor for The Moment.’
I say, “I am alive for the moment.” My life won’t last forever. I can exercise, diet, avoid poor health habits, but eventually, this life will end. “For the moment…” reminds me of my role while I’m alive – to do my best to live well so that I can die well whenever that moment arises. I am trying to do as my children and learn all I can in each grade, each stage, and then, when my time comes, head into the next.
There is one area I have yet to apply, “…for the moment.” I do not say, “My wife is alive for the moment” or, “My children are alive for the moment.” I’m just not there yet. As a pastor, I have buried other people’s spouses and other parent’s children. I am working hard to deny that could ever happen to me. I am certain my acceptance would enrich our time together, but I have some more maturing to do before I give up on denial altogether.
Here is an area that surprises many. I am comfortable saying, “I am David for the moment.” In whatever is after this life, will I still be called, “David?” Who knows? Even if “David Whitehill Jones” is one day etched in stone on a tomb or at the base of a statue on the national plaza in Washington like my mother thought, my name may not carry over to whatever is after death. In the Bible, names were changed quite often: Simon became Peter, Saul became Paul, and Sarai became Sarah. If it could happen to them, it may happen to me. For now, “I’m David for the moment.”
Try it yourself, say whatever fits, “I’m married for the moment,” or “I’m single for the moment.” “I’m a parent for the moment,”or “I’m a child for the moment.” “I’m a (insert job title, grade in school, or any other roles you play) for the moment.” “My name is ________ for the moment.” “I’m alive for the moment.” And, if you can, “Those I love are alive for the moment.”
Practice using this phrasing to frame your minutes into moments then try some of these other practices as you awaken to your life.