You Cannot See Your Future From Here

26 07 2012

I’ve been thinking about the future a lot this summer. It has alternately filled me with excitement and dread. I have found my heart racing with anticipation and with sheer panic. Beautiful fantasies, check. Hyperventilation, check. One day I found myself asking friends, “Which do you think is most likely – that I’ll develop an ulcer or have a heart attack?” (They immediately voted for the ulcer, their reason being I’m in good cardiovascular shape from working out.)

With all this mental and emotional turmoil, it would make sense to pull back a bit and spend some time in calm reflection. Of course, that’s how I got to this point in the first place – calmly reflecting on what it is I want for my life: who am I, how do I intend to live, what is my heart desiring? (I guess you really can’t start out on a journey to change your life and then be shocked when your life demands that you actually change.) Anyway, I did what many of us do when looking for perspective these days, and sat down at my computer. I googled “quotes about the future”, and found some interesting statements, my favorite of which is:

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
C. S. Lewis
 

In other words, the future arrives in its own time, and all the hyperventilating in the world won’t bring it on any more quickly – or delay it, either. At the rate of 60 minutes an hour, there is time to breathe.

I quickly discovered, though, that a clever quotation – even from such an erudite source as C.S. Lewis – can only stave off anxiety or provide mental respite for a short time. I needed something more “meaty” to chew on. And that is when a friend reminded me of a book I read all the way back in high school. Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.

This little book is an allegorical tale about poor Much-Afraid, who lives in the Valley of Humiliation, surrounded by her extended family, the Fearings. Much-Afraid is timid and suffers from physical disabilities and deformities which keep her feeling inferior and insecure. However, she has found employment working for the Shepherd, who promises to help her escape the Valley for the high places, The Kingdom of Love. If she will but trust and follow, she will be changed, her imperfections erased, and her feet will become “like hind’s feet”, able to leap gracefully and nimbly along even the steepest of paths.

Obviously, the reader is intended to identify with Much-Afraid. And I did (though not nearly to the degree I did when in high school). It is as she approaches the borders of the Kingdom of Love that the following passage appears:

“It did seem strange that even after safely surmounting so many difficulties and steep places, including the ‘impassable precipice’ just below them, Much-Afraid should remain so like her name. But so it was!”

Then, on the following page, the Shepherd places his hands on her comfortingly and says,

“Much-Afraid, don’t ever allow yourself to begin trying to picture what it will be like. Believe me, when you get to the places which you dread you will find that they are as different as possible from what you have imagined…”
 

And this is how God speaks to us, sometimes. In words or phrases which seem to appear in the moment of our need for them. It seems I read that whole book primarily for these few sentences. The first passage to remind me that everything in my life – my own weight loss, the journey I’ve been on to change so much about myself, the health issues and healings of my loved ones and SO MUCH MORE – should already have created a Fear-Less where a Much-Afraid once stood.

The second passage reminds me that there is no point in borrowing anxiety from the unknown – my creative imagination is not intended as a tool for anticipating, then dwelling on, worst-case scenarios. The reality is that worst cases, when they happen, are never quite what we thought they would be in specifics or scope or duration. Sometimes they are worse than we feared, other times, better or easier. In either case, we have to respond to them in the moment they occur. Having dreaded them in advance is not the tiniest bit useful in that moment.

As I adjust my thinking to encompass these two nuggets of wisdom, I find that my heart rate is slowing. I am not gulping big mouthfuls of air as if there will never be enough oxygen for me. I’ve mostly stopped worrying about an ulcer. Instead, I’m talking myself away from fear and into calm presence in the moment. And in that calm, I am able to identify the location of my next step forward – you know, a step that happens in this particular 60 minute increment of time. And then the next.

 
 
 
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