The Now and the Not Yet
Written by: Lisa Kelly
Tears streamed down my dear friend’s cheeks. She was exhausted. She was overwhelmed. She had been detailing the challenges of trying to find mental health care for her six year old son whose erratic behavior had caused her to question her capacity to parent, her support of the school system, and even to a point, her faith in God. The truth is that she is by far the most devoted, nurturing, supportive mother I have ever known. She’s the kind of mom who, recognizing her son’s tactile nature, made a letter book with ever letter of the alphabet having a different texture to help him learn to read. Every moment in her house is a learning moment about making good choices. She creates these crazy game nights like walking in jello and shooting cheerios into the toilet. Oh and yes, she works full time and has more children than a basketball team. I was simply stunned that this paragon of motherhood couldn’t see for herself how utterly amazing she was, how far she had brought her son, and how very present God was in her house when it was so clear to me. She shared that this daily exhaustion of running between work and school and doctor’s appointments, this was not the way she thought it would be at this point. It wasn’t what she envisioned and she was suffering.
I didn’t have the words to take away her suffering and I didn’t want to belittle it. It was very real with no end in sight. And yes, little things could be done to ease the time crunch—schedules rearranged, other hands pitching in to help (more an option for those with resources than those without.) But the real suffering she felt might never be eased until she had achieved her vision of a completely healthy son and that was not in anyone’s control. Where was God in her suffering?
Jesus taught very clearly that the Kingdom of God is both now and not yet, at hand and still to come. Perhaps at hand for each of us individually when we can find God in the present moment, each present moment, in all we have right now, overwhelming us with sheer gratitude. And yet it is still to come, because it will take time, human time, a long time, for all of us to realize and act out of that gratitude consistently in this life. This is another tension in human existence that Ignatius implored his companions to sit with—the now and the not yet, the recognition of the reality of the present moment and the desires that God has deemed to place on our hearts that seem utterly impossible. Ignatius told his companions that the solution to dealing with this tension, that does indeed cause us suffering at times, is to step back in prayer and recognize and name both poles, the current reality and the future desire of our heart. As a detached observer, to walk around them in our minds and see them from all angles—looking for God’s invitation within them as well as our own over-attachment. Sometimes the current reality will be really hard to admit because it hints at our failures. Sometimes we are too focused on the future to see the goodness we have right here and now. Sometimes the now is so good we fear a different future and act out, trying to keep anything from changing. Christ sits next to us in all of these, trying desperately to get us to see He is right here and will be no matter what the future holds.
In the midst of my friend’s suffering, God was very much there, in the now, perhaps with a thousand gifts she just couldn’t see at that moment: her own health, the very presence and love of her children and family and friends, the safety of the place in which she lived, all the teachers and counselors who truly cared, her incredible capacities to create and help others grow, in the very energy that gives each of us life. And God is very much there in the not yet, in that angst that “this is not what I thought it would be”, perhaps in an invitation to let go of an attachment to the unrealistic “perfect” world of our dreams. From the Not Yet, God calls us to a leap of faith that, whatever space we find ourselves in, the Divine lives within us, offers us the gifts we need to face it and promises a life far beyond anything we could dream for ourselves.
Are you living in the now or the not yet? Either way, God is there.
Photo: “Not Yet by Cayusa” (Used under Creative Commons license)