If it’s a mistake to add the burden of the past to the weight of the present, it’s a still worse mistake to burden the present with the future. The remedy for that tendency is to meditate on the lesson contained in the Gospel about abandonment to God’s Providence and ask for God’s grace to practice it. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at thebirds 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 which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ ” 10
Again, this does not mean being improvident and irresponsible. We are obliged to plan for the future and take thought for tomorrow. But we should do it without worrying, without the care that gnaws at the heart but doesn’t solve anything—and often prevents us from putting our hearts into what we have to do here and now. Hearts anxious about tomorrow can’t be open to the grace of the present moment.
Like the manna that fed the Hebrew people in the desert, grace can’t be stockpiled. We can’t build up reserves of grace but only receive it moment by moment, as part of the “daily bread” we pray for in the Our Father. To be free of the burden of the future as well as the past, we need “re-education.” Here are some commonsense points that can help.
Things seldom happen as we expect. Most of our fears and apprehensions turn out to be completely imaginary. Difficulties we anticipated become very simple in reality; and the real difficulties are things that didn’t occur to us. It’s better to accept things as they come, one after another, trusting that we will have the grace to deal with them at the right time, than to invent a host of scenarios about what may happen—scenarios that normally turn out to be wrong. The best way to prepare for the future is to put our hearts into the present. In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples they will be hauled before tribunals, and then he adds: “Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.” 11
Projecting our fears into the future cuts us off from reality and prevents us from dealing with the present situation as we should. It saps our best energies. In another passage of her journal, Etty Hillesum says: “If one burdens the future with one’s worries, it cannot grow organically. I am filled with confidence, not that I shall succeed in worldly things, but that even when things go badly for me I shall still find life good and worth living.” 12
Fear of suffering, as we’ve seen, causes more pain than suffering does. We need to live accordingly.
We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies. We make mental provision for the days to come, and everything turns out differently, quite differently. Sufficient unto the day. The things that have to be done must be done, and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God. Everything will turn out all right … Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world. 13
Our present life is always something good, for the Creator has endowed it with a blessing he will never cancel, even though sin has complicated things. “God saw that it was good,” the Book of Genesis tells us. For God, “seeing” means not merely taking note but actually conferring reality. This fundamental goodness of life is also expressed by Jesus: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” 14
Sometimes, though, it isn’t worry that causes us to focus on the future, but the hope of something better or happier. It may be a very specific event, like a reunion with someone we love or coming home after a long, tiring journey. Or it may be less well-defined: the time when things will go better, circumstances will change, life will be more interesting. At present, we tell ourselves, we don’t really have a life, but later we will “live life to the full.” There is nothing wrong with that, but it does contain a certain danger. We may spend our whole lives waiting to live. Thus we risk not fully accepting the reality of our present lives. Yet, what guarantee is there that we won’t be disappointed when the long-awaited time arrives? Meanwhile we don’t put our hearts sufficiently into today, and so miss graces we should be receiving. Let us live each moment to the full, not worrying
about whether time is going quickly or slowly but welcoming everything given us moment by moment.
To live today well we also should remember that God only asks for one thing at a time, never two. It doesn’t matter whether the job we have in hand is sweeping the kitchen floor or giving a speech to forty thousand people. We must to put our hearts into it, simply and calmly, and not try to solve more than one problem at a time. Even when what we’re doing is genuinely trifling, it’s a mistake to rush through it as though we felt we were wasting our time. If something, no matter how ordinary, needs to be done and is part of our lives, it’s worth doing for its own sake, and worth putting our hearts into.
Availability is fundamental in our relations with others. In every encounter with someone else, however long or short, we should make him feel we’re one hundred percent there for him at that moment, with nothing else to do except be with him and do whatever needs doing for him. Good manners, yes, but also real, heartfelt availability. This is very difficult, since we have a strong sense of proprietary rights to our time and easily tend to get upset if we can’t organize it as we choose. But this is the price of genuine love. If Jesus asks us not to have any worries, that is mainly to safeguard the quality of our relations with other people. A heart preoccupied by concerns and worries isn’t available to other people. Parents should remember this: children can get along happily without constantly demanding their parents’ attention, provided there are regular times when Dad or Mom have no concern except being with them. If we are riddled with anxieties instead of leaving them in God’s hands, we can’t offer our children that kind of time, and they will never feel secure in our love, no matter how many expensive gifts we lavish on them.
If we try to live like that and deepen our relationship with God and our prayer life, so that we can perceive his presence within us and live as much as possible in communion with his indwelling, we shall discover something wonderful: the interior rhythm of grace that our life follows at its deepest level.
It might be said that there are two modes of time: time of the head and time of the heart. The first is psychological time, the time in our minds, which we make calculations about, and divide into hours and days to be managed and planned. This kind of time always goes either too fast or too slowly.
But there is another sort of time, experienced at certain moments of happiness or grace, though it always exists. This is God’s time, the time of the deep rhythms of grace in our lives. It is composed of a succession of moments harmoniously linked. Each of those moments is complete in itself, full, because in it we do what we have to do, in communion with God’s will. That time is communion with eternity. It is time we receive as a gift.
If we always lived in that time, we would have much less opportunity for harm and wrongdoing. The devil slips into time we live badly because we are refusing something or grasping too eagerly at something else.
The saints habitually lived in that interior time. To do that required great inner freedom, total detachment from our own plans and programs and inclinations. We must be ready to do in an instant just what we hadn’t expected, to live in total self-abandonment, with no other concern than doing God’s will and being fully available to people and events. We also need to experience in prayer God’s presence within us and to listen inwardly to the Holy Spirit so as to follow his suggestions.
Then nothing is left to chance. Often we may journey in darkness, but we sense that our lives are unfolding in a rhythm we do not control but to which we are happy to abandon ourselves and by which all events are arranged with infinite wisdom.
Father Jacques Philippe was born on March 12, 1947, in Lorraine, France. After studying mathematics in college he spent several years teaching and doing scientific research. He joined the catholic com-munity of the beatitudes and became the first priest to be ordained in April 1985. Father Jacques spent his first years as a community member in Jerusalem and Nazareth. With over half of a million of his books sold on topics such as: prayer, interior freedom, and peace of heart; his writings have be-come classics of modern catholic spirituality . He preaches retreats regularly in France, Italy, Spain, and the USA. He has consolidated his main retreat themes into seven books on spirituality. Currently, his time is now mostly devoted to prayer, writing and touring worldwide. His preaching genuinely helps people to pray, find hope and peace. When fr. Jacques is not on mission, he resides in a hermitage in France where he writes books.
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