March 5, 2018

Why We Shouldn't Always Live in the Present

Friends, I'm thrilled to say that tomorrow, March 6, is the release day for my new book, Searching for Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time. I believe so strongly in the message of this book and am praying for its words to encourage many who are discouraged, suffering, or simply needing a reminder of God's beauty and his redemptive work. 

Now on to today's post, which answers the question, "What does it mean to search for spring?"

In the transitions between seasons, when the calendar begins its countdown, I stand vigil, searching for even the smallest signs of change.

In the height of the heat and humidity of summer, I anticipate the feel of crisp fall mornings, when the sounds of the cars whipping by on the highway near our house inexplicably carry farther and when socks again become necessary.

In the fall, I obsessively circle one specific tree, a sugar maple, watching as its green bleeds more and more into bright orange each day, and I think of how, though beautiful, I'm standing vigil over death. I think of how winter, unseen for now, marches silently toward the horizon, coming for me and for everyone else.

The falling heralds will soon be swept away by November rakes or December winds. Winter, barren and cold, long and harsh, comes. A sense of dread grows in me with each acrobatic leaf leaping off its summer home, for winter always seems the longest waiting.

Winter, the desperate vigil, the season when I stand at the window and search for signs of spring. I watch for the forsythia bushes beside my neighbor's mailbox to explode with yellow blooms, for the forsythia is the first to signal spring here at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After the forsythia, my attention turns toward the leaf buds on the long dormant oak trees in our yard, and then I watch for the daffodils throughout the city, knowing they sprout up before the tulips. I hang the hummingbird feeder from the porch and wait expectantly for our buzzing friends' return from their long trip south.
Life is full of watching and waiting: for change, for transition, for life to spring forth out of barrenness.

We've been taught that this search for what's next is somehow wrong, labeling it discontentment and scolding ourselves to remain in the present moment. But isn't it so hard to see clearly in the present moment? When we're knee deep in winter's snow, doesn't it warm us even to consider that the day will again return when we walk barefoot in the grass or along the shore?

We tell ourselves unhelpful tales, how all restlessness is to be resisted, and that all searching is shot through with sin.

I remember as a young mother, chasing a toddler around, praying he would look me in the eye and speak a word, any word, how I cried and cried and cried. Tears were constant, like the gray overcast of winter.

I'd always lived with hope for the future, but then, suddenly, the future appeared like a thunderstorm in the distance, and the sunny hopes I'd had disappeared behind looming clouds. In all my blue sky, bright sun days, I'd never considered that the future might hold hard things, hard things that don't go away.

As my tears poured, I realized my hope for the future--the tales I'd told myself--hadn't been real but rather something like a vapor. My hope had been carried along upon human ideas and human plans and a human agenda. And no human agenda writes pain into the plan. No one wishes for a shattering.

My tears were bitter as I swallowed them and as they trickled down onto my wet pillow, because the hope had gone away. Or perhaps it was clear then how my hope had been in myself all along, with a little Jesus sprinkled on top.

What's difficult is when there are no signs of change, when we're knee deep in winter's snow, and living in the present means only barrenness, not spring's life. Living in the present means only more tears. Strength for the present is more of what we need, for we cannot notice enough to actually see, we only see blurry though our tears. It's a comfort then that Jesus teaches us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," for he knew we'd need strength to walk not in sight in this present day (or strength simply to raise the blinds and let the day in at all) but rather in faith, believing in what's come before and in what he's said will come still.

Living in the present is right and good, and we should take notice as much as we can take in, but our restlessness teaches us more than that. We must also live in the past, looking back, taking notes, and remembering how the daily bread has been given before. When I stand over my heater grate in winter and see only brown, I close my eyes and see instead with my heart the trees flush with green and the warmth of the summer sun on my skin. I remember winter will come to an end, for the seasons are steady and true, and I've experienced summer many times before.

And if the seasons are steady and true, what shall we say about their Maker?

In those years when I cried and cried and cried, I began to be glad. I wasn't glad for my present circumstances, not one single bit. I was glad, however, my own heart had been revealed to me and all the hopes I'd so carefully crafted were ripped out at the roots. I was glad to walk in winter because it made me start to search for spring. My restlessness led me to a true hope, where God is. He was and is in the pain and difficulty, pulling the eyes of my heart forward, teaching me to live for the future.

That is precisely what it means to search for spring: to sit in the restlessness of "this isn't how it's supposed to be" but also to hope and long and believe that, as the seasons are fixed and sure, there is a fixed and sure God who promised full redemption is coming.

I keep returning to and relishing in what God asked the prophet Jeremiah: "Jeremiah, what do you see?" Jeremiah looked and saw an almond branch, just as I look and see the forsythia bush and the oak tree and the hummingbird feeder. They are our signs of spring and they tell us that the promise, although made, has not yet been fulfilled. The Lord said to Jeremiah, "You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it."
In conjunction with the release of Searching for Spring, I'm honored to be a speaker for an upcoming online Bible conference called Enjoy the Word. The goal of the conference is to help women understand the Bible and know how to study it for themselves. I will tell you more about it soon here on my blog, on Instagram, and Facebook, but I wanted to tell you about an incredible Bible study giveaway in advance of the conference that ends today. Click on the image below to enter to win an ESV journaling Bible, several Bible studies and books (including Messy Beautiful Friendship), Scripture memory cards, and a whole lot more. In addition, when you sign up for the giveaway, you'll be among the first to know the details about the Enjoy the Word conference, and you'll get $5 off early bird pricing. I can't wait to tell you more! Look for more details soon.