I meet people all the time who are stuck in the past. Almost everything they say is about the good old days or about their disdain for the present. Granted there are so many things in history worth remembering and sharing and there is also much to disdain in the present. Yet it seems the more a person is enamored with the past the less engaged they are with enjoying the present or shaping the future, and, the more likely they are to disdain most everything about the present.
On the other hand, I meet people all the time who have no appreciation for history whatsoever. For many of them “history” is what they did last night. They are so self-absorbed and focused on their own very small, egocentric, present world that they are hardly aware of the amazing stories of the past, personal or corporate. They know little about history and care even less.
Still another kind of person I often encounter is crabby on the past and the present. They have no appreciation for the past and are completely unsatisfied with the present. They are waiting for the future thinking it will take care of their deep and abiding dissatisfaction with life. As a result they are literally wasting their future moment by moment. For these folks there is no future, only the ever present emptiness of the now.
It is just so hard to find the balance. So few people I meet are able to fully appreciate the richness of knowing and learning from history, both individual and corporate, while at the same time living fully in the present and reaching with enthusiasm toward the future. It seems the human condition is predisposed to focus on one to the exclusion of the others. It is just so hard to find a balance.
Just this past Sunday I spoke with folks in all three conditions. Our congregation is celebrating 125 years. There is so much in the history of this church to celebrate. But there is also so much going on right now and every indication that the future has incredible mission potential. The now is very different than the past. The congregation has changed dramatically from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, when it was a predominantly upper middle class professional church. In 1969 it began a 30 year decline. Members who have stayed through the glory and the decline to secure a different future, have self-described their past as self-absorbed. The church is now a growing and very diverse multicultural congregation that is enthusiastically looking forward to a very different future.
During this past Sunday’s celebration, I spoke with a woman who is still mourning the loss of the church it was in the past and as a result has found no faith community to satisfy her. I was saddened by hearing her describe her failed attempts at finding a faith community. Nothing can compare to what she had. I spoke with another person who is so wrapped up in their immediate experience of faith that they have almost no awareness of how important the past has been in bringing them to where they are. And they had no desire to wonder about the future in order to allow it to influence their present. And I spoke with a young man who is blinded to the rich offerings of both the past and the present and is waiting for some unidentifiable future time when everything he longs for will be realized.
Thank God I heard from a person who knows balance! This man was able to speak clearly of the beauty and pain of the past and understand its importance to his present and future. Yet he also seems totally engaged in the moment, talking excitedly about what God is doing in his life right now. He has an infectious enthusiasm for the future even though he does not know exactly what it will hold for him. He simply trusts the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
The scripture consistently calls us to this balance. We are to remember the stories of God’s dealings with Israel because they are examples for us (1 Cor. 10), and to embrace the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12). We are exhorted to not worry about tomorrow because today is demanding enough on our energies (Matt. 6). But we are also told that a wise person plans for the future (Luke 14:25-34).
It’s just so hard. I love hearing stories from the past and can get so caught up in them that I lose any sense of time in the present. But I want to be fully present now. I want to seize every moment in such a way that it builds a future that is full of hope and possibility. And I want to take time to think about and plan for the future so that it does not catch me unprepared. I want to live a balanced life and not get stuck. I want to honor the past, embrace the present, and reach for the future. It’s just so hard.