The danger of when
I spent too much time on social media again today. I keep moving my pile of unfolded laundry from my bed to my chair and back again, watching it grow all the while. I’ve got a mug on my desk and my floor, both housing tea bags long dried out. And I’ve yet to put away all my Christmas presents.
Phew. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, shall we proceed?
I’m here to talk about a dangerous word. No, it’s not an expletive. It wouldn’t instill any fear in you, I’m sure, if you heard it said alone. In fact, there’s really something pleasant about the way it rolls gently off the tongue. But still, it’s a danger: when.
I’m thinking about my deeply rooted bad habits and unkempt room. I’m thinking, too, about my job and my travel schedule and my finances. I’m thinking about my plans for the future and the secret longings of my heart. And I’m thinking I’m not alone in this particular sentence construction: “When [blank], then I’ll be happy. Then I can enjoy my time. Then life will just be plain better.” Seemingly harmless, I know. Who hasn’t ever looked ahead with hope? Expected certain relief after a period of suffering? Wished to fast forward time? But there’s a sneaking danger in these hypotheses we so often propose.
In high school, I would look longingly at the clock, willing it to strike 2:10 and set me free from that cage of a classroom. In college, I’d yearn for that last day of final exams when my late nights of studying would be behind me. As a working woman, I often arrive at Fridays with triumph and Mondays with dread. And you know what all this looking and longing and yearning points to? Wishing time away. Failing to relish in the present moment. Shrinking from the mysterious and purifying gift that is suffering. Shoot. That isn’t the way I want to live.
There’s something about a new year that makes me step back and look at time differently. And maybe, too, it’s the grey gloominess of winter. It could be the traveling I’ve been doing and the new friends I’ve been making. But as I’ve begun to settle into a normal routine again, working and running and hosting and the like, feeling like my time is being all but swallowed up, I’ve needed to stop and remember: This life, this day, this very moment is good. Fleeting and unreplaceable. Sure, I wish my room was clean. I wish I’d already mastered the art of avoiding distraction and living a perfectly ordered life. I wish, selfishly, that I had complete freedom in how I spend my time, that I could take a day off whenever I please, and only run errands and pay bills and empty the trash when I felt like it. But joy is only to be found in the present. The messy, imperfect, uncomfortable present.
The truth is, as often as I wish away time, there is so, so much to be grateful for now. So many blessings to seize, so much beauty to notice. There are quiet details about my simple daily life that, if I allow them, can arrest me with their hidden profundity. There are countless characteristics of life as a single, city-dwelling 26-year-old that I dearly love and know I’ll miss when I enter the next season of my life.
So, I’m choosing now to remind and reremind myself of those many gifts of the present. To cherish this season, with all its sorrows and joys. To strike those little whens from their place of hypothesis. And to remember those wise words of St. Francis de Sales: “My past no longer concerns me. It belongs to divine mercy. My future does not yet concern me. It belongs to divine providence. What concerns me and what challenges me is today, which belongs to God’s grace and to the devotion of my heart and my good will.”
How about you? Do you struggle with living in the present, wishing away time? What are you most grateful for this very moment?