This got me thinking about time. What happened to February? Where had March gone to? As soon as I plunge into the depths of daily life the currents seem to overwhelm me so that I do not have (or do not make) time for reflection so that I have something to tell you about. So as I sit here I am thinking about the concept of time, and my mind wanders back to the beginning of the year when I was reading a book by C. S. Lewis called the The Screwtape Letters. In this fascinating novel a senior demon, Screwtape, writes a series of letters to his nephew Wormwood to give him advice on how to keep his "patient" off the right path. With a sharp sense of humour, Lewis displays an amazing insight into human character and how spiritual matters relate to even the mundane details of everyday life.
One letter touches on the topic of time, in which Screwtape tries to explain to his nephew how to keep his patient's mind fixed on the future, and why this is neccesary. In the following exceprt, bear in mind that the "Enemy" refers to God from Satan's point of view, and what is good to them is evil to us.
"The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure. Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays."And then this statement in particular:
"[In the Present], and there alone, all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell." C. S. Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters", Letter XVMost of us spend much of our time either thinking about the past, or wondering about the future. The past, as Lewis points out, is known to us, and reliving the past in our minds can never change it. On the other hand, the future is unknown to us, and as such is much more prone to making us fret, because we do not know for certain how it will turn out. But when our minds are fixed on the past or on the future, we cannot fully enjoy the present moment or fulfil our present duty. What struck me is that I can neither do nor experience anything in the past or in the future, but I can only perform an action or have an experience in the present. And if it is true as I wrote in my first post that life is mainly made up of doing and experiencing things, then the only place I can do anything, experience anything, learn anything, enjoy anything, is in the present.
Oh, what a discontented person I am. I think about this thing or that which I would like to have, but as soon as I get it, my mind is already on the next thing I desire. It seems like I am always waiting for something in the future, but when the time comes for me to enjoy it, I no longer want it because I am waiting for something new. So often when I am at home I want to get out of the house, but when I am at varsity I cannot wait to get home. It's funny how the desire for something in the future, or the longing for something in the past is often so much stronger than any enjoyment I experience in the present. But I forget that I can only enjoy what I have now, that in the present, "all pleasure dwell".
But that is not my only problem. I spend so much time thinking about my studies, about the fact that I have been wasting so much time in the past, and worrying that I will not be able to catch up with my work in the future. But in all this worrying I often fail to do what I can in the present moment. I fool myself by saying that I am planning for the future, but real planning only takes minutes, while fretting can take up hours. I forget that I can only do anything now, that in the present, "all duty dwell".
I also spend a lot of time thinking about where I am in life; how far I've come in the past, and how far I still need to progress in the future. But in all this analyzing I forget to ask the Lord for the grace to meet the current challenge I am facing. I forget that God can only help me now, that in the present "all grace dwell".
Lewis says that the present, and eternity should be our main concerns. Do not now think that eternity is the same as the future. The future is linked to time, but eternity is completely separate from time, in fact in eternity time doesn't exist. While I go about my daily life, living in the present, I need to think about eternity as well; I need to live with eternity in view. God is eternal, and we need to think about Him, and for a Christian it is vital to spend every present moment with God in view. I think one of our main problems is that we put so much emphasis on the realities of this life that it becomes more important than the realities of eternity. But that is a topic for another time.
I pray that the Lord will teach me to live in the present - free of past guilt, and free of future worry. I know it will not be easy, but I trust that as He teaches me to live with my eyes fixed on Him who is in eternity, I will be able to enjoy the present pleasure, perform my present duty, and face the present challenge.