There may be something about the present we don’t like, that we fear. The present may not be all that we wish or want it to be. It may be a painful present. We may try to cover it up, move past it too quickly — and so we don’t learn from it.
There are typical strategies for avoiding the present: fleeing into the past or the future.
People will choose to live in the past. They’ll live in their memories, positive or negative. We may wallow in myths about the “good old days” or be consumed by resentments and grudges. We refuse to let go of past failures and hurts. We allow our mistakes to define us. We allow the past to decide how we will live or view ourselves today.
Or, people will live in the future. People will live through worry. They’ll worry about things that will never happen or things they can’t change. That’s a way to escape from the present, too. Or, they will choose to put off their lives. At “some other time” we’ll settle down, or have time for ourselves, or pray, or enjoy life. Someone once said that one of the devil’s most destructive tools is to convince us that we “have time.” There is always some other time, some other day.
If the present moment is tough, dangerous, or lonely, we don’t have to escape or avoid it. We can enter that pain and learn from it. We can let it move us to open ourselves to others, to do new things, to start a new pattern. To live in the present is to take responsibility for the present, to accept responsibility for ourselves and how we live. It’s to say: we are finite, we are to blame for much of our own misery, we are only lumps of clay. But we are clay in God’s hands. We can let ourselves be forgiven, molded, changed — because we know our Redeemer.
If the present moment is happy, we can enter that, too. Some people will choose to avoid even those happy moments, as a way to protect themselves from having to let go of what doesn’t last. But we can enter those times. We can appreciate them and allow them to color our lives.
When we live fully in the present, we are not a slave to either the past or the future.
But there is still another reason we may seek to flee the present: boredom. Sometimes the present entails waiting, and much of the waiting we do we think of as boring. We think of waiting in lines at the airport or in a doctor’s office: we’re looking at our watch … 45 minutes off schedule … we pick up another People magazine … we look for another distraction on our smartphone.
That’s not Advent waiting. Advent waiting is not passive. It’s active.
“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:33-37).
Jesus tells us again to stay awake. “Keep alert!” That’s how we’re supposed to wait. He’s saying: As you wait for me, be about the things I’ve told you to be about. Love, care for one another. Be alert to one another’s needs. Be peacemakers and reconcilers and healers. Be ready to pray and rest in my presence. Savor life and don’t put it off — because I am with you here and now.
We sometimes use the term “wake-up call.” We usually mean some kind of close call or crisis. But it doesn’t have to be a crisis or near-death experience. Anything can be a wake-up call. Anything can call us to be present in a new way, to savor life, to find God.
Anything can call us to prayer: a family gathering around a dinner table, or a sunset, or a good conversation with a friend, a call or an email from someone with whom we had lost contact — or even eating an orange. They are all like the church bells that once called people in a village to pray.
Advent is one of those wake-up calls, one of those bells ringing. We need to let Advent call us to prayer, to the present.
Excerpted from “Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas Reader to Awaken Your Soul.”