When we live in the future, we miss the present God has in store

People stand near an Advent wreath in 2016 outside St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest, Hungary. Advent is a time to be watchful and alert to the ways one strays from God's path, but also to signs of his presence in other people and in the beauty of the world. (CNS photo/Balazs Mohai, EPA)

Recently, I was teaching my fifth-grade students that God is present everywhere and always and is not bound by space or time as we are. To emphasize the importance of the fact that God is present at every moment, I shared with the students a spiritual insight I had heard from one of the Sisters: if we approach life with an attitude of “if I can just get to…” then we will miss Him because He is in the present and wants to meet us there.

I think it can be particularly easy at this time of year to fall into the trap of not living in the present. “If I can only get all the Christmas shopping done…” “If I can only get past that stressful family gathering…” “If I can only make it through final exams…” “If I could just get to the break from school or work…” But if we think only about getting beyond tasks that seem unpleasant, we will miss the beauty the Lord has planned for us even in them. If we focus too much on “getting beyond,” we will fail to encounter Him, ironically at a time of year when we remember how He came to live among us.

But we can also be tempted to pass opportunities to meet God in the present by focusing on our longing for good things that we desire in the future. The Sister who shared this spiritual insight warned a group of us Sisters of the danger of falling into attitudes of “if I could only graduate and have my own classroom…” or “if I could just make it to final vows…” But having these attitudes would lead to missing God, who seeks to meet us where we are, right now. Graduating and making final vows obviously are good things and special times in which the Lord does desire to encounter us, once we arrive there. But spending all my mental, emotional, and even spiritual energy on getting there will cause me to lose sight of the Lord through the process. 

We live in a society filled with noise and distractions. What would happen if we took time throughout our day to stop and recognize what is right in front of us? What if we actually attended to the present moment and really did meet our God there? What a difference that would make in the world!

So in the midst of this holiday season, let us seek to find the Lord present at each moment. In the hustle and bustle, let us neither forget the reason we are celebrating nor focus so much on the preparations that we forget that it is a celebration at all. Let us strive always to live in the present moment – not in the past or in the future – so that we may there encounter the God who loves us infinitely.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.