By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published March 4, 2022
On a blistering August day, my husband and I sat on the back deck having supper and listing our future adventures. We would go to Nashville, where he’d speak at a Tolkien conference in September. In October we would head to Treasure Island to celebrate our anniversary, and then at Christmas drive to Florida to see relatives.
All our plans went up in a puff of smoke, when he died the next day. Today, when I catch myself peering too far into the future, I stop and remind myself of what St. James writes: “You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.”
Robert Burns wrote a poem about a panic-stricken mouse whose cozy home was uprooted by a bumbling gardener raking the lawn. “To a Mouse” presents a poignant lesson for humans, who sometimes see their future dreams destroyed. As Burns put it, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
How can we avoid becoming too attached to our future plans? We can remind ourselves that every moment is in God’s hands, and tomorrow depends on his plan for our lives.
We might pray with St. Padre Pio: “Lord, I leave the past in Your mercy, the future in Your providential care, and the present moment in Your Love.”
I recall talking with a secretary at the university where I once worked. We were both longing for the weekend, even though it was only Tuesday. She said, ‘You know, sometimes I think we wish our lives away.”
What wisdom there was in her words! Counting the hours until the weekend can dull our enjoyment of the here and now. Ironically, this habit of longing for the future can even stalk us on vacations, as we sit on the beach, daydreaming about our next getaway.
It’s commonplace to think that when it comes to death, we have more time. We’ll tweak our lives at some future point to follow Christ more closely, but not today. We’re too busy with the job, home repairs and exercising at the gym.
On Ash Wednesday, we hear the stark words: “Repent and return to the Gospel.” Not tomorrow, but today. The proverb “Time waits for no man” reminds us that the stream of time moves on, pulling us along. We are mortal and as Jesus said: “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Staying awake means being fully alive in the present, not daydreaming about the future. Being awake means meeting Jesus in the here and now, in the ordinary moments of our lives.
I believe there’s only one time in the Gospels where Jesus asked for a favor. On the night before he died, he asked his friends to pray with him, perhaps because he dreaded being alone to contemplate his horrendous death.
His friends fell asleep! Maybe they figured they’d pray with him in the future, without realizing that was their last chance to be with Jesus before the crucifixion.
“Could you not watch one hour with me?” he asked Peter. We can tailor this question for our own lives, as we imagine the words of an elderly relative: “Could you visit the nursing home to see me?” We can also imagine Jesus asking: “Could you spend one hour with me at Sunday Mass?”
When we stay awake to the present moment, we can see who needs our company, who needs a prayer, who needs a kind word. When we stay awake, we can better avoid hurting other people.
After all, who knows? Perhaps if that bumbling gardener had been more aware of his surroundings, and more alert to the present moment, he wouldn’t have uprooted the cozy home of that poor mouse.