One week ago I moved back into the town where I attend a university. This is the start of my fifth year there (and I plan to make it the last for my wallet’s sake), and naturally this town feels familiar, even like home, to me. I look out across the town and see the farmlands rising up to the horizon, and in front of the farmlands are suburban areas where families, town workers and university staff and students all live. The new school year is about to begin, and I recall the past years in which I have lived in this town: all in different buildings, yet they all seemed in the same way to be nestled snugly in this college town in the middle of nowhere.
But now, unlike in the past, the air feels different. I can feel the finality of my time here in my skin. It is almost time for me to leave this place, and I feel as if my whole body is preparing for the transition to a new home.
This is not a new feeling to me, but the comprehensive degree of this feeling is something I have never felt. This level of knowledge that I will not live in this town forever, nor even much longer, is not only filling my mind but my entire being. The experience is new for me, and rather uncomfortable. In this state, I have a continual urge to prepare for the next part of my life, yet I know not how to follow this urge through. The desire to do something fights against my ignorance in how to do that something, and this cerebral conflict fills me with an ache, a longing for stability.
But stability is fleeting, if indeed it ever is present, in my life, and probably every single other person’s life as well. Truly I am able to control some circumstances in my life, but not all of them. And where there is no complete control, there is effectively no control. For if one uncontrollable part of my life changes, I cannot manipulate the any of the controllable parts to submit the rebelling part to my will, no matter how hard I try. My life will change, whether or not I want it to do so. All I can do is control how I respond to this change. This is the same for all people, not just for myself, I am slightly sorry to say. And this is will be the case for everyone throughout our lives, because this life each of us lives will not last forever.
There is, however, one ultimate stability in our lives. The only possible stable part of anyone’s life is God’s presence with and love for him or her; and if a person doesn’t believe in the God of the Bible, who never leaves his children, then that sole shred of stability is still true, but inactive. No stability is received, though it is always offered as long as a person is breathing.
For those of us who do abide in Jesus, though, we have this hope of stability. I use the word “hope” in a sense that it is present now, rather than something awaited; a comfort and peace in times when it is nowhere else found. This hope is also for our future, but since we do not live in nor can we change the future (in the way of altering what set of events will happen before they become the present), I will not discuss this future hope here. The now-hope is what we need for now. But this hope will only be useful to us if we make use of it, or rather, if we acknowledge and receive it.
How do we use this hope? I am not a good candidate to answer this question since I am still finding the answer myself, but I will gladly share what I have found so far, which is merely the first part. This is not indisputable fact, nor do I claim it is such; it is rather the results of my experience, which I hope (in the colloquial sense) is useful to you.
The first part to using this hope of God’s presence and love is to consider it. We can intellectually say that we believe in and love God, but if this is a mere yes-or-no question, we have surely missed God’s point in loving us. We should not be so quick to conclude thoughts about or in communication with God. When we change our thoughts from including to excluding God, we are not allowing his presence and power to comfort and help us. Indeed, we are doing precisely that sin which Jesus’ brother James tells us not to do:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17)
We may have softened and made acceptable this sin to ourselves, but it is no more acceptable to God than it ever has been. Our thoughts and plans must include God if we are to live as he wishes us to live, and to receive the continuing faith, hope and love he wishes to give us. Jesus spoke of his submission to his Father’s will, and as he lived, so we are to live, because he is our model.
The weight of all this is crushing, as it should be. We cannot do this on our own. But God can enable us to live this way. In my experience, he rarely makes a complete change all at one moment; rather, he uses time and my efforts to cause me to change and grow in spiritual maturity (which means to become more like Jesus and simultaneously more of the unique person he made me to be). This is the essence of growth in God’s family: through successes and failures, our efforts, motivated by the grace given to us by Jesus in his life, crucifixion and resurrection, will lead us to live how God wants us to live. God’s church will slowly bring justice and mercy to the world, as he intends us to do.
But this all starts with including God in our thoughts continually, and “continually” starts with increasing periods of time. Through prayer, reading the Bible, intellectual thoughts about God, and communicating our emotions to God while persisting through them, among other efforts, we can begin to consciously include God in more of our lives.
One last note: I will not lie to you and say that I have mastered this, or become decent at it. I frequently spend days thinking about all sorts of topics while having a rather hostile attitude toward God, fearing he will change the uncontrollable parts of my life to make my thoughts useless. But I do have a strong desire to include God in my thoughts and plans, since I believe him to be and have experienced him as completely benevolent. This desire is all I recommend to you, and since God understands that growth takes much time (see Hebrews 4:15), I believe it is all he is asking of us beginners in this process as well.
This is the beginning step of living daily for God that I have found, and I encourage you to find other ways to make use of the hope that God provides us through his presence and love for us.