Live in the moment. The phrase is so overused that it’s lost any real meaning. The practice of ‘living in the moment’ and ‘being present’ is widely recognized in this hectic modern world as an effective way to manage stress and enhance happiness. Given the testimonies of those who use these techniques, it’s hard to ignore how effective they can be. Even doctors are beginning to suggest that patients practice mindfulness in order to manage and prevent pain.
But I wonder if giving our devout attention to resting in our current circumstances only serves to increase happiness, or if it has a much deeper purpose. Is there a lesson in being present that could influence much more than our productivity and pain management? If so, how do we commit to this way of being when our ‘now’ is full of hurt, suffering, and uncertainty?
In August of 2014, as a wide-eyed and ambitious 20-year-old, I set off to fulfill a longtime dream of studying abroad in California.* (*Insert expectations of long walks on hazy beach piers and moments of college life sculpted by years of indulging in brainless coming-of-age movies here.) I left New Zealand with a lightly packed suitcase, pale winter skin that longed for sunshine, and an open mind, ready to gratefully embrace the lessons that would be revealed as I embarked on my adventure—a hearty sentiment that soon took on a drastically different hue. Once I arrived, I was completely present, body and soul. How novel it all was. How sensory. How praiseworthy and trusting I felt laying my plans before God because it was all so romantic and I felt that nothing could touch me…
Three weeks later, I woke from emergency surgery in San Diego with a middle-aged nurse leaning over me exclaiming, “You are such a lucky girl!” The following week saw me hospitalized, immobilized, and laid up on my own. In these reflective and isolated moments that held no familiarity 7,206 miles from home, I experienced overwhelming nostalgia for past seasons of my life. Some memories were uncomfortable to sit with, some brought a surge of unassailable thankfulness, and some came in the form of profound revelation much larger than I had ever experienced. It was as if in that particular time, when my life was as far from my idealized plan as it could get, I was most at peace. I understood presence. The past had no influence, the future was uncertain, and all that was left was the stillness of the moment; the moment in which, for the first time, I was learning to see myself humbly resting in God.
In the year of convalescing that followed, I began to understand that regrouping, recovering, and re-gathering in stillness was something much more than a coping mechanism for my physical and emotional healing—it was a biblical concept and foundational part of faith in Jesus. We so often get caught up in future projecting and fearful imaginings, or replaying and recycling feelings of guilt and regret after unexpected setbacks. However, Jesus repeatedly taught and demonstrated the value of stillness in the immediate moment. A beautiful portion of scripture in Mark alludes to this: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (1:35). This short description helps us value and understand a certain element of Jesus’ character: His habit of being present before God. The most satisfying moments of communication and connection with God often result when we chose to stop living in our heads, being controlled by circumstance and emotion, and instead favor surrendering to live by the Spirit, here and now.
In response to my question posed above—How do we commit to this way of being when our ‘now’ is full of hurt, suffering, and uncertainty?—I believe the beauty lies in this: we do nothing. In suffering and pain we learn what comfort is to be found simply in His presence. We learn to fully rest in the knowledge that God is the strength in our weakness. It is when our pride is shattered the most that we acknowledge our desire and need for God’s peace. For me, my illness and recovery really did all point me back to prioritizing stillness. Through times of meditative contemplation, in which I emptied myself and was fueled by God’s strength, I found myself making more compassionate choices, loving better, and seeking to become much more of a peacemaker in my daily routines.
I’m not suggesting that accepting times of suffering is easy, or that it serves as a magical pass to skip the hurt. Giving God time to minister to us when we experience doubt and pain as we navigate the tough stuff can be one of the most trying things to commit to. My example is a mild one, and many of us have pains that are indescribably perplexing and bring to the surface much more than a tearful, “Why God?” Even still, we can be certain that we serve a God who promises He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is “our refuge and strength, our ever present help in times of trouble” and we are invited to hold fast to this comfort and the constant companionship it can bring in every moment.
Words by Rosie Fea