For Christmas, my dear friend gifted me with this watch. I love it, first, simply because I love watches, and second, because I am entirely preoccupied with living in the future, and this is a very tangible reminder to take up residence in the present. I was convicted of my future-orientation while reading The Screwtape Letters. In one chapter in particular, C. S. Lewis paints a very vivid picture of why we are called to dwell in the NOW. Here is an except from a letter of the senior demon in the story, Screwtape, addressed to his apprentice, Wormword, on the topic of tempting humans with the future. It’s long, but so worth the read.
The humans live in time but out 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 temps 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. [...] Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead. Do no think lust an exception. When the present pleasure arrives, the sin (which alone interests us) is already over. The pleasure is just the part of the process which we regret and would exclude if we could do so without losing the sin; it is the part contributed by the Enemy, and therefore experienced in a Present. The sin, which is our contribution, looked forward.
To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too–just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. This is now straw splitting. He does not want ment to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasures in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issus to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future–haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth–ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by doing so we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other–dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, never kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.
It follows then, in general, and other things being equal, that it is better for your patient to be filled with anxiety or hope (it doesn’t matter which) about this war than for him to be living in the present. But the phrase ‘living in the present’ is ambiguous. It may describe a process which is really just as much concerned with the Future as anxiety itself. You man may be untroubled about the Future, not because he is concerned with the Present, but because he has persuaded himself that the Future is going to be agreeable. As long as that is the real cause of his tranquility, his tranquility will do us good, because it is only piling up more disappointment, and therefore more impatience, for him when his false hopes are dashed. If, on the other hand, he is aware that horrors may be in store for him and is praying for the virtues, wherewith to meet them, and meanwhile concerning himself with the Present because there, and there alone, all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell, his state is very undesirable and should be attacked at once.
What I love here is that Screwtape reveals the absolute insanity of future-orientation–that we have hope and anxiety over the conflicting realities we paint for ourselves and allow to rule us. We are awash with worry and fear, and then alight with joy over the possibility of events or circumstances that are only just that…possibilities. The present is almost seen as a nuisance. I tend to want to sweep it aside, like crumbs in the way of a clean floor. The present feels toilsome, mandane and irritating, while the future is sparkling with promise or looming like a dark cloud, depending on my mood. Do you see how trapped we are by living for the ‘morrow?? I’m only just starting to grasp it.
TODAY is the day that the Lord made. Rejoice and be glad in it. Take in this moment, and rest in his grace, praise him for the blessing, or ask him for patience to endure. Your life is now, so have no worries about tomorrow or what lies ahead. Live in the present.