Sunday, April 06, 2008

Staying in the present...

My friend Beth is a face reader. What I mean is, she is very perceptive about what is going on in your head based on what she sees on your face. It's hard to get anything past her. That is comforting and unnerving at the same time.

Beth comes out every week to the Bible study I teach to meet with the ladies who have made a decision for Christ. She's seen the gamut of Tammy Mood Swings on Wednesdays, which tend to be days of big highs and lows. One day, about a month ago, she said something like, "You look like you're far away...." I laughed. You're right! I said. That's my problem ... my mind is always 1,000 places at once. I have to work at staying in the present...

A classic story by Dr. Suess just came to mind: The Glunk that Got Thunk. It's about a little girl with a hard-working imagination who uses her "thinker-upper" to conjure up this obnoxious creature called a glunk. She does it to amuse herself, but finds that once the Glunk has arrived on the scene, there's no getting rid of this boorish fiend whose outrageous behavior threatens to get the little girl and her big brother in a great deal of trouble with their parents. Ultimately, her big brother has to un-think the glunk for her. He sternly warns her never to think such thoughts again. Stay in the present! (Side note -- feminists had a field day with this one, LOL!)

I deny that I am traveling in my thought life in order to to think up mysterious creatures. I just go places in my mind and before I know it, I am oh so very far away from where I need to be. That far away look has not always served me well. People interpret it as angry or proud or dispassionate or aloof. I usually explain it away quite simply: "Sorry, went to the Bahamas for a minute, but I'm back now ..." They usually respond in kind with, "Was it a good trip?"

The majority of the time, those far away places I'm visiting are me processing an idea or thought or scheme, trying it on for size and extrapolating it out three, six, 12 months into the future. Sometimes, those places are happy places, a recreation of a memory or an incident from a few days previous; a big smile. Other times, they are the places that make me mentally put my hands over my ears once I recognize my surroundings. "Stop, stop, stop ... you are dismissed." (I confess I'm getting better at making a fast exit from those places.)

Here's a question, though. Where am I most likely to find God? When I travel to those darker places, are they dark because I am heading there without him? If I took him to those places and asked him to clean house, what would that look like? I've had a little bit of experience with that, taking the Lord with me as I excavate some painful destinations. As I read over this, it sounds presumptuous to say the I take God somewhere, as if he is not really omnipresent after all. I mean no disrespect or heresy. I think God is in every moment, but free will somehow allows us to refuse him admittance. I have often described God to others as being very polite and well-mannered -- he tends not to go to places uninvited. But maybe the reality of that is I choose not to acknowledge his presence (for certainly he is there), and therefore limit my ability to interact with him in these places. What a silly thing to do.

(This post is bordering on folderol. I confess I don't know where it's going. I typically map these writings out a little-- even if I often land at a different spot. Today, I am all over the map.)

OK, retracing my steps ... staying in the present.

You know, the Lord has many lovely things for us right here in the present, but it can require discipline to remain with him here. Imagine being in the same room with your absolute, most favorite person in the entire world, whomever that may be. Let's say this person is someone you don't get to see every day, so visits with them are anticipated treasures. Are you going to pick up a book or launch into some other activity that excludes him or her? (Perhaps if you are an insensitive glunk!) No, of course not. But the fact is, even spending time with the most charismatic person in the world can require a decision on your part to stay in the present.

Should we be surprised that the same is true for keeping God in our present? Yes, he is here already, but do I acknowledge him? I told someone that one interpretation I have of sanctifying grace is experiencing God's presence at increasing intensities and being changed because of it. But the increasing intensities are not the result of God arbitrarily choosing to turn the volume up and down. The increasing intensities represent my ability or willingness to put aside all other influences and receive only him. That's a pretty tough feat for us mortals! I'm hoping that in the next life, many of the distractions caused by this fleshly tent I drag around will enable me to experience 100% pure God, no filters, barriers or impediments.

So ... traveling in our thoughts ... the destinations can be nice places to visit, but we wouldn't want to live there. Let's spend more time in the present. Better yet, let's find more time in the present ... with God. He's an excellent tour guide.

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