Do you ever catch yourself in the "when" and "then" thinking mode? "When" things get a little less hectic, "then" I can... Or perhaps "when" I finally finish this, "then" I will feel a lot better about myself. We all do it - drifting into the "when" and "then" thinking mode on occasion. It is when we dwell there that life becomes a little sketchy for us! All of us have the tendency to base our "happiness" on the "when" and "then" theory. We think someone or something, some series of events, or perhaps some final outcome will bring us to the place where we can declare ourselves truly happy. Instead of living in the "now", we focus on the "when" and "then" - missing the opportunities of the "now". You have probably caught that theme in my writing lately because I find myself thinking this way on occasion. I find myself borrowing from tomorrow and bringing it into today (the "when" thinking) - we call this worry. I find myself counting on the outcome of one thing to produce the outcome I desire (the "then" thinking) - we call this hope. Worry is really a trust thing - hope is equally a trust thing. Always living in worry or constantly holding onto some hope can make us very weary folks! There is much to be done with our "now" - so we'd be best served just focusing on the "now" instead of the "when" and "then"!
Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 2:21-23 NLT)
Solomon was deemed to be the wisest guy going. He had amassed wealth beyond his ability to spend it all. His fame was talked about through all the nations. Yet, in the end of it all, he draws the conclusion that all the pursuits of this life just don't do it for you. You work hard, amass until your coffers hold no more, then what you think will provide great pleasure pales in comparison for the hope you had for it. He had been living in the "when" and "then" mode - finding it to be meaningless in the end. Did you ever stop to consider the word you find in scripture which translates as "happy" in our English language? It is the word "blessed". Happiness isn't equated with the external circumstances and the things we can amass - it is equated with the internal peace and the comfort of knowing the presence of God within.
This is fundamental to living in the "now" instead of the "when" and "then". We must ever be cognizant of the presence of God in our lives - moving us from external focus for our satisfaction into a place of focusing on what dwells within. In fact, happiness is an inward attitude - an attitude of choice. It is the choosing to dwell in the here and now - not discounting we have hope for the future; nor does it discount the lessons we can draw from which pocked our past. We just don't choose to stay in the "when" and "then" thinking. If you go to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), you will see a list of "attitudes" or "choices" a man makes which define his potential for happiness. They are choices - choosing to live one way over another. Really, when we begin to focus on the "now", we are doing just that - focusing on the choices which will impact our future and leave our past in the dust.
Something gets in the way of us living in the "now", though. It is our pride. Whenever we focus on the "now", our pride might take a little hit or two. If we stop to consider this for a moment we will realize when we are always focusing on the "when", we are placing our hope in what will be, not on what is right now. When we are focusing on the "then", we are placing our hope in the idea of the reward or change which will come in the future, not in the present. Change begins in the present - it might be completed in the future, but it begins today.
Dealing with our "today" keeps us humble - because we come face to face with the reality of having to deal with the things which must change today if we are to realize what we hope for in the future. We must relinquish what we counted on in the past, or hold so desperately to because it defines us in some way "now". Truth be told, past is past - what defined us yesterday should not be what defines us today. We should be growing daily. Our choices should be refined each day, changing our attitude in the process. A refining of attitude is what helps us to grow - not the "when" and "then" of a future state. It is in the choices we make today, where the rubber meets the road, that our character is defined. When Jesus says "Blessed is the man...", he is defining what makes up the character which leads to our true happiness.
Another thing we need to see about the "when" and "then" thinking is the foundation it lays for all we do. As long as we keep the focus on the "when" and "then", we are probably living under some stress to impress someone with the "future state" we imagine we will achieve. Pride keeps us focused on the "impression" we make - God keeps us focused on the "impression" he makes in our lives! When we give up the "stress to impress" kind of thinking, we find ourselves settling into what God brings into our present with a knowledge he is using it to "impress himself" upon us. What living in the "now" does for us is pretty simple - it gives us the freedom to live as we really are - to be true to our nature. Our "nature" might need a little refining, true, but the refining only takes place in the "now". God is a God of the present - his work is accomplished in our "today". When we start to live in the moment, we become acquainted with the change he is focusing on "now" which ultimately will affect our "when" and "then". In fact, we probably will see our perception of the "when" and "then" morph into something entirely different than we thought in the first place. Just sayin!