Living in the Present with Eternal Goals

I remember vividly having a substitute teacher for about eight weeks in elementary school. She was a very disciplined and naturally harsh person—initially. Though, I think with time we saw a soft side to her. But, mostly I remember her taking roll call at the beginning of class.

“When I call your name, if you are present, say, ‘here.’”

By present I believe what she wanted to know was if we were there physically. That’s what counted in elementary school. If we were in the classroom and in our seat then that was sufficient.

However, when it comes to life, being physically present isn’t sufficient. There is a mindfulness that is required. Psychologists call this mindfulness “being present,” but it is also referred to as simply being mindful, focused, and “in the moment.”

The first time I remember truly understanding what it meant to be mindful was the first time I decided to try yoga. I’d always seen yoga as an exercise for eccentrics. I still won’t ever aspire to some of those poses, but yoga (if you stick with it) teaches you to be truly mindful of your body. It’s the strangest thing. The first time I did yoga I simply didn’t understand the poses. It seemed silly, but I persevered. The second time I did it, as I listened to the funny things they were saying to get me to think about different muscles and with what appendages I was carrying the weight of a pose, etc., I suddenly began to feel the poses click. They were teaching me how to be mindful of my body. I’ll say it again. It was the strangest thing. But, as I was mindful of what I was doing and tried to “feel” the pose instead of just imitate it, the pose felt different. I felt different.

Now, every time I do yoga (about once a week), I’m naturally mindful. I know the moment my body gets the pose right because of how it feels. I’ve learned, in this instance, to be mindful.

Being Present and Mindful in Your Current Life with Eternal Goals

Being present in life, as a whole, is quite difficult when we live in a religious culture that embraces the eternal perspective. We’re always grasping and reaching for the immortal and eternal blessings of the gospel while being literally beaten up, weighed down, and distracted by the present, the temporal, and the mortal. Being present with so much abuse from mortality is difficult.

So, like Yoga, I’m going to talk you and walk you through some pondering exercises to help you be not only physically present in your life, but spiritually present. My goal is to help you learn how to maintain that eternal perspective while also understanding how to deal with the every-day.

Let Go of the Past

The past is in the past. It has made us who we are. Its consequences and effects can be long-reaching, but it should not rule our present, or limit our intentions or goals for the future.

Alma, who self-proclaimed himself as one of the vilest of sinners, was called to repentance publicly by an angel. He suffered the pains of a damned soul (one who could not progress) until he remembered his father preaching to him about Christ, who would come to redeem men from their sins. He says very clearly (Alma 36:19):

And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my PAINS no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

So many people misread this scripture to say, “I could remember my SINS no more.” But, that’s not what it says. Alma could remember his sins. He was a vile sinner. Yet, when he embraced the atonement of Jesus Christ, repented of his sins, and was enveloped by mercy, he let go of the pains and harrowing feelings. He didn’t let them depress and distract him from his current life. He went on to become the prophet of the church. His past didn’t hold him back.

  • Do you spend worthless time feeling depressed by your past sins (even yesterday’s)?
  • Have you repented of them appropriately?
  • If you have repented, why do you hang onto to the pain of them?
  • What do you do with the pain you purposefully generate when you dwell on your past sins?
  • What does your focus on your past sins keep you from doing in regards to your eternal goals?

In Doctrine & Covenants 58:42-43, God says very clearly (make no mistake):

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.

Now, when God says He remembers our sins no more, it is rhetorical device. Of course He can remember them, but what He is saying is, those sins don’t define us. Those sins, repented of, no longer matter to Him. The pain we felt as we committed and repented of those sins was accepted of God. He certainly does not expect, or want, us to continue to beat ourselves up or to refuse to move forward in the present because we’re bogged down by sins He’s already forgiven.

The next line is also extremely clear and we don’t often ponder about. But, the Lord says, we can know if we’re clean by two simple things. If we’ve confessed our sins to Him (or to proper priesthood authority, if necessary) and we no longer commit these sins, then there is no need to waste time on them. They are in the past. We need to leave the past in the past.

Even if your past is only yesterday or last week, if you’ve properly repented. Let the past go. Do not let it define your present. If you live in the past, you cannot be present in your life, nor can you reach for eternal goals.

The problem with living in the past is that you live life facing backward. Imagine yourself walking backward around the house, always preoccupied with what is behind you instead of where you are going. Imagine yourself trying to work with your back to everything you are supposed to be presently focusing on. If you are always looking backward, not only can you not anticipate or plan for the present (or future), but you completely botch anything you put your hand to. Can you imagine cooking with your back to your stove? It’s a pretty ridiculous picture.

It’s not less, and even more, ridiculous to live your life focusing on the past.

Those who live in the past lack faith in the atonement, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ. They do not believe that appropriate repentance is sufficient and allow their sins to define them. They falsely feel that God would rather have them self-deprecate, beat themselves up, devalue their own efforts and repentance, and discount their accepted offerings. These kinds of individuals struggle to progress in faith and are often exceedingly judgmental of others—desiring to beat them up also lest they also get off too easily.

Have Future Intentions but not Predictions

Like the past, the future is not a place we can live in or dwell on without detriment to our present. Many of us like to predict our future. And it often looks like this:

  • I’ll be happy when I get that pay raise
  • I’ll feel happier when our debts are finally paid off
  • I’ll be a better parent when I’ve met this career goal
  • I’ll start preparing to go to the temple when I finally feel like I can do it
  • I’ll repent of that sin once I can prove to the bishop that I’m already back on the right track
  • I’ll go to church when the meeting time starts after 10:00 a.m.
  • I’ll make time to read my scriptures once I get out of this tough semester of school
  • I’ll commit to preparing for and receiving my endowment when I can prove to myself that I won’t mess up anymore
  • I’ll get married when I can prove to myself that I can be faithful to someone and to the marriage covenant

Many of us like to make promises to ourselves and predict our future contentment and success by dwelling on future arrivals. It’s a silky-smooth, nearly undetectable form of ingratitude, resentment, jealousy, covetousness, and perhaps most dangerous, procrastination. It allows us, most satanically, to falsely justify spiritual and temporal entitlement. It allows us to comfortably (albeit unhappily) refuse to take control of our lives (and our eternity). It makes it easy to blame others for our misery.

So often we want proof of who we can be and what we are capable of without jumping into the very things that will give us the proof that we seek. We want to do things perfectly or not at all. We want to know that we won’t fail without having tried to succeed. This type of future focus will destroy all of our dreams. It brings up the cliché phrase: it is better to have loved and lost then to never have loved at all. Obviously, right after any kind of heartbreak or failure, this phrase feels like a lie. But it isn’t. We can’t know love or God without having tried. Much of love is learned in the failure of it, just as much of becoming like God and getting to know Him is learned in the failure of it. There is no perfect moment when we’ll just know that we can keep His commandments, just as there is no perfect moment when we just know we’ll never sin again. We probably will. But, the atonement of Jesus Christ is there so we can keep trying no matter how many times we mess up. It’s a beautiful, eternal scholarship.

Those who focus on the future do not realize it, but they lack faith in the atonement, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ. They are also deceived that true happiness comes from not having suffered, when in fact it can’t come without having suffered (2 Nephi 2:11).

Christ taught (Matthew 6:28-34):

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore, take no thought saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? …for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

There are two beautiful doctrines in this section of verses about living in the present.

First, God is not saying to not be prepared, in general. There are a numerous amount of scriptural admonitions to be provident in our living and prepared. But, He is telling us that once we’ve prepared to not dwell on or focus on the future. He’s telling us not to devote time and effort to worry, nor to put off enjoying our present. When tomorrow comes we can devote thought to it then. He is saying, more or less, “be present in today.”

If we have food and clothing enough for today, and we’ve paid our tithing, and we’re doing our best to live providently; then we need to be grateful today. We need to be at peace today. We need to use what resources we have—today—to serve God and our fellow men. Tomorrow’s resources, food, clothing, etc., will take care of themselves if we are present in today.

God has said, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear,” (Doctrine & Covenants 38:30). If we have done what we can, if we have prepared, then it does no good to fear the morrow. Leave tomorrow until tomorrow. Just as we can live at peace with ourselves if we know we have repented, we can do the same with the future if we know we have prepared.

Second, God tell us very clearly what to do with the present, even how to live in the present, once we’ve tackled our issues with looking back or focusing too far forward. If we naturally repentant and we do what we can daily to be prepared for the future, then He says for the present that we are to, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

We aren’t to dwell on the past. We aren’t to panic over the future. We are to live in the present with eternal intent. In the moment, day-to-day, we are to put God, and His kingdom, first, in whatever ways that applies. In the present, day-to-day, we are to live for our eternal goals, and all the other mortal and temporal things will take care of themselves.

Jar with sand and rocks from travels on a window

The Jar Principle (or the Tithing Principle): How to Live in the Present

There is an object lesson that was quoted to me for years. It’s the jar with the large rocks, the pebbles, and the sand. However, though I’d heard it several times, I’d never actually seen it. And, I wanted to test it.

Here’s how it works. You take a jar and you fill it as full as you can with large rocks. Then, when you can’t fit anymore large rocks in, you pour in pebbles. They slide in and around the large rocks and fill in the spaces. When you can’t fit anymore pebbles in, you pour in sand. The sand fills in all the remaining gaps. You fill it with sand up to the top, level it off and put on the lid. Feel free to jostle the jar after you’ve done this. There is very little settling that occurs.

Next, you pour all the contents of the jar out into a bowl. You sort out the big rocks and then separate the pebbles from the sand with a sifter/strainer of some kind. Then, you put all the contents into the jar in the reverse order. Sand first, pebbles second, large rocks last. In reverse order, with all the jostling and shaking that you want, you cannot fit all the large rocks back in. That’s what people say anyway.

So, I tried it. And, guess what. They’re right.

Now, I’m sure there are some type of commercial conditions somewhere that could find a way to put all the contents back in the jar in reverse order. But, though that may be true, I think the principle is still valid.

What God is saying to us is that we can live in the present quite peacefully and calmly, despite the battering processes of life, if we will simply have faith in Him and put in the big rocks first, the pebbles second, and the sand last. (Corrie Ten Boom is a testimony that this is possible even when in the most horrific of human circumstances. Read The Hiding Place.)

The big rocks are the things of God: praying, reading and studying our scriptures, attending church, and fulfilling callings. The things of God include: patriarchal blessings, repentance, receiving ordinances and covenants, and learning to forgive. These are Big Eternal Rocks that need to be attended to daily, presently, mindfully.

The pebbles, well, I think everyone’s pebbles are up to them to determine and define. The sand, I think we can safely say that those are things we make important in the past, future, and even the present, but they have little, if any, eternal significance other than to distract us from the large rocks and remove room for the things of God in our lives.

How I Live in the Present (and Apply the Tithing Principle)

I’m not the model child of living in the present. But, there are a few habits that I’ve formed that help me to be present in today while shooting for eternal goals.

  1. In the morning I try not to look at my phone (mortal communication) without first picking up my spiritual phone and communicating with God (prayer). Even if I can only get in a 30-second prayer I make that big rock more important than the pebbles waiting on my phone via email, text, and various social media notifications.
  2. Before I take a bite of breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I try to take a moment to be mindful of where the abundance has come from. I try not to say “bless the food,” as much as I say, “thank Thee for the food.” I really don’t think God will fault me if I forget to pray over my food, but when I do I am more mindful of Him, and being mindful of Him (big rock) helps me to be more present in my life.
  3. Before I hop into bed at night to read or go to sleep or write a blog or make social media posts (pebbles), I kneel and pray and then read my scriptures (big rocks). Everything ALWAYS goes more smoothly when I have taken care of those rocks first. Everything else always seems to take less time than I thought. Somehow, that spiritual principle is true.
  4. When I say my prayers (morning and night) I try not to have a wrote list of things I am grateful for every time. I try to focus instead on the truth of how I feel at the moment. I try to be mindful and ponder what exactly it is I am grateful for in that moment. I don’t add ten extra things to my gratitude list just to sound good to myself (or God). I try to really thank Him for what I am presently, currently, truly thankful for.
  5. When I do something wrong, react poorly, or sin through weakness, I try to apologize as soon as I can. I usually try to gather my thoughts and to be mindful about what it is that is really wrong. I try to figure out why I would react so poorly and so unkindly. Then, I go and acknowledge my own fault in the altercation as soon as I can. I don’t worry about the other person’s apology (pebble). I put my own apology first (big rock). Sometimes it’s a prayer I offer, and within moments I know exactly what my problem is, or at least what I need to apologize for. I don’t wait for other people to throw in their pebbles of apology. I get my rock in that jar as fast as I can. It relieves me in the present, brings me peace in the present, puts me back in good standing with God in the present, and sometimes (though not always) it makes the other person’s apology negligible to me.

These are all seemingly little things, but they make a huge different in each and every part of my day. I wish I had more to share. I wish I had a perfect life that could model for everyone what it means to be present in life with eternal goals. But, guess what? I don’t have to. Christ modeled it for us all. Christ was perfectly present while shooting for eternity. He always did God’s will and never His own.

One Day at a Time

I looked up a few psychology articles on “being present” and found that in most ways, they agree with everything I have blogged about today. And, for certain, the one thing they preach that is very in tune with God’s instructions is to simply take one day at a time.

Just like my yoga experience, put God first today. You may think I sound a bit eccentric. You may have tried to “go through the motions,” before and it didn’t really click. But, I’m challenging you to try again. Put God first today. In the present, give Him your first offerings of all that you are. Do that today. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t worry about how you did yesterday. Simply put Him first today.

Tomorrow, you can worry about tomorrow. Yesterday was yesterday. But, for at least one day, you can put Him and His kingdom first. Then, tomorrow, try again. Then, the next day, try again. Like my yoga experience, I can guarantee you that being mindful of God first, each day, you will suddenly “feel” the difference. Instead of just “going through the motions,” you will feel it click. The mindfulness of God will reorder your life and make living in the present with eternal goals not only doable, but enabling. You will find the balance you’ve craved. You will find peace. Things you used to think were important will suddenly appear as they really are, grains of sand.

Be present in your eternal goals each day and the rest of life will take care of itself. So also, your eternal goals will take care of themselves. You have God’s promise on this. And, I promise you can trust Him.

BT

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