So you have a problem. You find that you’re spending way too much time either dwelling on the past or thinking about the future. You truly want to stop, but you don’t know how; the past and the future are constantly luring you with their voices, and you keep listening to them.
You wonder why you’re constantly restless and why you lack interior peace and joy, but the answer is right before you—literally right before you. It’s called the present moment.
One of the reasons we sometimes miss the gifts that the Lord wants to give to us each day is because we so often fail to live in the present moment. But let’s examine the interior experience of living in the past and the future and see what fruit it bears in our lives.
What happens when we dwell on the past (not good memories, but our negative past)? We feel regret for past actions; we experience resentment (literally “to feel again”) toward a person or persons; we dwell in our hurts or in our failures. Regret, resentment, hurt, and failure. Not exactly a great way to spend our day.
What happens when we live in the future? We experience fear of the unknown or what may be; we worry about how events may turn out; we conjure up scenarios that cause us great anxiety. Fear, worry, and anxiety. Again, not a great way to spend our day.
No wonder why people who dwell on the past and who live in the future fail to experience the peace and joy that the Lord wants to give them in the present moment. The past is gone; the future is not here; and it is simply irrational to spend our mental energy on things that cause us such interior turmoil. Dwelling on the past and living in the future are both evidence of our lack of trust in God: lack of trust in his mercy for our past and lack of trust in his loving care for our future.
So what does Jesus say about all this?
Regarding the past: “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48 and many other instances!).
Regarding the future: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or your body, what you will wear… Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? … If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith… 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” (see Matthew 6:25-34).
God lives in the eternal present. When the Lord revealed Himself and His name to Moses, He said, “I Am Who Am” (Exodus 3:14). The Lord did not say, “I was who was” or “I will be who will be.” He simply said, “I Am.” We need to learn to dwell with the Lord where He is, in the present.
What are the benefits of living in the present moment? The greatest benefit is the peace that it brings. No regrets, no worries, just dwelling in the present moment with “I Am.” Also, we experience more gratitude, because we become acutely aware of God’s presence and how He is acting in our lives each day. Furthermore, living in the present helps us to be fully present to the people that we encounter each day and to see Christ in them. Lastly, living in the present actually benefits our future because by staying focused on the most important aspects of our lives we will be well prepared for whatever the future brings us.
How do we acquire the habit of living in the present moment? We certainly are not going to be perfect; but we can at least train ourselves to return to the present moment when we find ourselves listening to the voices of the past and the future. The best way to develop the habit of living in the present moment is to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes daily in quiet prayer, dwelling with the Lord who lives in the eternal present. After all, it is the Lord who said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:11). If we can simply learn to be still in prayer each day, that stillness will eventually begin to permeate the other hours of our day.
So, when you’re tempted to dwell on your past sins, simply pray, “Thank you for forgiving me, Lord.” (If you know you need to confess your sins, simply do it and let it go. God does not hold grudges).
When you’re tempted to live in the future, simply pray, “Jesus, I trust in You,” and return to the gift of the present.