Daily Devotional: Living Today, Fully Present, Both in Pain and Joy

be present 2

 

I continue looking at prayers that have been sources of help to me in my times of crises, as well help to my patients as a chaplain, and those I’ve supported as a pastor over the years.   Because of how the words of others who’ve stood with me in trials have often been just what I needed to find my own words and way when struck voiceless by loss and pain, I choose to focus on the prayers voiced by my church community, the United Church of Christ.   Today I continue to look at the “Serenity Prayer”, the original version of which was penned by United Church of Christ pastor Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr in the last century.  His original version of this prayer is:
“God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things

I cannot change,

 

“Courage to change the

things I can, and the

wisdom to know the difference.

 

“Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardship as the

pathway to peace.

 

“Taking, as He did, this

sinful world as it is,

not as I would have it.

 

“Trusting that He will make

all things right if I

surrender to His Will;

 

“That I may be reasonably happy

in this life, and supremely

happy with Him forever in

the next.

 

“Amen.”

 

In my last post I talked about the way in which praying this prayer invites us to accept what lies before us, without simply throwing up our hands helplessly.  Another approach to life this prayer invites us to is one of being present in the moment.  We are to pray that be present 4we might live one day at a time, one moment at a time.  Though this section of the prayer often gets omitted in the abbreviated form of the prayer at work in nondenominational 12-step spirituality groups, the attitude is core to what happens.   People talk about taking their recovery one day at a time, one moment at a time.

This approach to focusing on faith as a one moment at a time, one day at a time, journey through life also emerges in some of the beautiful old southern Gospel music that has so shaped the culture of my home, the south-land.  Notice Merle Haggard singing this classic:

 

“I’m only human, I’m just a man/woman

Help me believe in what I could be

And all that I am

Show me the stairway I have to climb

Lord for my sake, help me to take

One day at a time

 

“One day at a time sweet Jesus

That’s all I’m askin’ of you

Just give me the strength

To do every day what I have to do

Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus

And tomorrow may never be mine

Lord, help me today, show me the way

One day at a time

 

“Do you remember when you walked among men

Well Jesus you know

If you’re lookin’ below, it’s worse now than then

Pushin’ and shovin’ and crowdin’ my mind

So for my sake, teach me to take

One day at a time

 

“One day at a time sweet Jesus

That’s all I’m askin’ of you

Just give me the strength

To do every day what I have to do

Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus

And tomorrow may never be mine

Lord, help me today, show me the way

One day at a time”

 

This emphasis of facing life one day, one moment at a time can be hard in the midst of both crisis and also new beginning.

As a chaplain and pastor, it so tugs at my heart strings when I sit with families and patients who sit uncertain.  Will this illness get better?  If not, how long do they have?  It is easy to become caught up in the “what if’s?” of life.    I know when my own late wife be presenthad become sick with her Arnold Chiari I found myself wondering, will she make it?  How many years do we have?   I found the more I worried about what might lie around the corner, the less I saw what was right in front of me.  I remember deciding there is no way I can know if we have two weeks or 50 years.   Let me choose each day to embrace each moment I have with her.   Let me not feel I have to push aside my life, either, for if she passes she would not want me to feel I lost everything, but instead to have dreams, hopes, and pursuits.  That was a hard choice for me, because I felt planning ahead I could anticipate it.  And I couldn’t.  Her sudden death from her disease that October morning was not on our radar as, though her health was bad, all the doctors said she was doing fine.   If I had known it was coming then, we would have so much sadness, planning, and heartache.  Instead we had a great year, embracing each other and each moment.   We were able to live her final days with joy and passion.  And I did not put aside the causes, work, study which gave my life meaning and which enable me to live each day now with some hope.   I see this too with patients, families, and parishioners I support.  When they let worry about “what if?” reign, such an easy natural choice, they cannot fully be present with their own feelings let alone being fully present with their loved one and each other.   Learning to just take each day, each moment, on its own without worrying about what might happen frees you and me to be fully present with each other and to take in all available in each moment.

It is easy too to become trapped in what has been.  I think in the 12 step movement we see this in individuals who become deeply aware of the ways in which their addictions inspired them do things that truly harmed others.  It is easy in seeing this to become immobilized by grief and shame.  Instead the call is to make amends.  The call of spirituality is not to become trapped by what we cannot change – our pasts – but instead to embrace what change can come.   We cannot change our pasts but we can begin with God’s help to shape our futures.   Learning not to live in regret but rather let our feelings of grief and shame inspire us to live differently now and in the days that follow, even reaching out for reconciliation, is the call of this prayer.

Similarly when my late wife passed, I had a temptation to sit, to stay, my heart stuck in what was lost.  In all the years we had together which I will never have again.   In the pain, heartache, and anguish.   I felt that call, but knew in my heart to stay stuck in the past was to lose myself.   Deep within I felt something somewhere remind me that though my wife had died, I had not.  I had breath.  I had life.   And if I do, I must choose not to bury my heart and life along with her, but to find ways to move forward.

You see this too in those facing illness or loss of one they loved too, don’t you?  They can become trapped in their past, with the piles of regret of what might have been.  One must face these things, don’t misunderstand.  We must let ourselves come to sense, feel, and hopefully come to peace about whatever is deep in our hearts.  But we cannot become trapped in regret, for regret is like a shroud over our eyes keeping us from seeing the one whom we can make amends with right before us or the possibilities of new beginning.    Only as our regrets lead us to embrace life in new ways, people in new ways, do they do a holy work.

This does not mean we avoid these painful feelings for, as the prayer says, at times such pain is the pathway to peace.    But it is allowing such pain not to get us stuck but to open us up, open us to others, to God, to ourselves, to life.    For we can change how we are, how we relate, what our futures look like.

I am reaching the point in my journey of grief after the loss of my dear late wife when I am seriously beginning to look to the future.   Where I am trying to take control of my life again.  In many ways with her unexpected death it is like a hole was ripped into my world into which for a while I was plummeting.  Friends, family, church members, God, neighbors, reached their hands out and caught me as I fell.  I have been righting myself ever since.  I am just at the point I have begun to feel my footing.

I find myself looking at the question “What will my life look like?”  A part of me wants to continue my education as I work.  A part of me wants to adopt or foster children.  A part be present 3of me wants to find love again.   I have days I get caught up in wondering, wishing, hoping, about what that new future would be.   Such thoughts are exciting.  And yet… Does pining for love, dreaming for work, imagining being a parent – as wonderful as these things are – really get me present in the moment?   I find there are times where such dreaming for the future also can be a distraction.   And so I must again pull myself back to being fully present in this moment.  Whatever good future God has for me, which a part of me hopes somehow redeems the pain and loss I’ve faced, cannot be gotten to by living in my mind in a future not yet here.  It will only come by embracing this moment, every time this moment comes, and this day every day.  It is by being fully present with the people around me, with the opportunities opening up to me, with myself and my feelings.  As that happens, things will emerge.  Perhaps I will decide to continue counseling school.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps one of the very fascinating and beautiful women in my life – or one I have not yet met – will become interested in me and I in them.  Perhaps not.   Perhaps I will get a bigger place and begin the process to foster and adopt children.  Who knows?

It will not happen today.  And it will not happen by me simply imagining I am on the other side of this long process.  It will happen as I am present, open, available to myself, to others, to what is going on right in front of me.

I’ve found through my own loss that what I witness in others as a chaplain and pastor is true: As easy as it is to say “take it one day at a time” and “be fully present in this moment”, boy howdy that can be hard!  Often the past or the future feels more comfortable, as it exists on one side or the other of this pain.  But the only way forward is through.   One cannot get beyond the mountain without scaling it.  Likewise, the only way for me to get beyond the pain into the bright future I hope for is by every day moving one foot in front of the other, and being present with what comes: both pain and joy.   This is true for you too.

But the great thing about the Christian story is we are given a robust hope.   The other side of pain – of cross, of grave, of hell – is not destruction.  It is empty tomb.  It is new life.  It is new beginning.  If we embrace being fully present in our pain, we can know like Jesus it will not destroy us but prepare for a future as renewing and unexpected as the one found that Easter morning.

Let us keep that journey together.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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