By nature, I tend to be a pretty anxious person. This is my biggest daily struggle: My imagination causes me to worry about everything.
I panicked over last year’s Ebola scare and started washing my hands about every ten minutes or so.
I regularly worry about mass shootings, which is one of the reasons why the church where I pastor employs an off-duty police officer.
I randomly worry that people in my life are mad at me or that I have somehow done something to upset them.
I worry that our church will fail and that I won’t be able to provide for my family.
I often feel certain that I am somehow doing permanent damage to my children simply by being their father—by being a pastor, by not always knowing how to talk to them, by feeling frustrated when they do things that kids do.
When I have nothing else to worry about, I worry about death.
Sometimes I feel worried about nothing in particular—I will be sitting at my desk or driving in my car or reading a book, and suddenly my pulse will begin to race. Suddenly, I feel anxious, but I can’t even figure out why.
(So starting a church from scratch was definitely the right career move for me, right?)
I used to see a therapist for this, but I can’t currently afford therapy, so I’ve taken to reading and meditating and trying different exercises in order to try and relax a little bit. (Music helps, too.)
I recently discovered an ancient mantra that helps me quite a bit. Someone told me that whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious, I should pause and ask myself the question, “What in this moment is lacking?”
The basic idea of this question is to remind myself that I can only live in the present, regardless of whatever else is swirling around in my over-active imagination. It is possible to miss out on the present moment because I am so consumed with what has happened or what may happen someday.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). I don’t know about you, but being told to “not worry,” even if it comes from the Bible, has never worked for me. I’ve never been told to stop worrying and thought to myself, “Well, that’s a good idea. I should try that.”
But now, in light of this question—“What in this moment is lacking?”—I think I finally get it (or at least I’m starting to); Jesus is pointing out that I can only live in the present moment because that is all that currently exists.
When I worry, I am living either in the past or in the future. I live in the past when I agonize over the things I did, said, or didn’t do—when I replay the same tapes in my head over and over again. But the past is gone—it’s as gone as the Roman Empire and the Silent Film Era. Likewise, when I worry about what has not happened yet—when I think of all of the potential inevitabilities from disease epidemics to personal financial ruin—I am allowing my mind to live in a world that does not exist; I am being guided by data that has not yet been collected.
And so to ask myself “What in this moment is lacking?” is to bring myself back into the present moment. It is the act of looking at my life right now and realizing that things are mostly fine.
So if I ask myself this question—“What in this moment is lacking?”—I might think of various responses:
I have a sermon to preach soon, and I don’t think it’s very good.
Okay, but you aren’t preaching that sermon right now. That is not lacking in this moment—it will potentially be lacking in a future moment, but not this one.
I’m worried about my family’s financial future.
Sure, but that’s not in this moment, either. In this moment, you have a job, your bills are paid, your kids are healthy, and your stomach is full.
Obviously, this is not to minimize real problems or actual chaos that will certainly occur at some point in the future. This is not about living in denial or pretending that everything is always fine. Sometimes there will certainly be an honest-to-goodness answer to the question about what is lacking in this moment…
I’m in pain.
The bills are due.
But right now, as I write this post, those are not my problems. In this moment, I am sitting in a well-lit room with breakfast in my stomach, gas in my car, and books uploaded on my iPad. I have a wife whom I adore, two amazing and healthy kids, a job that I love, and a wonderful group of friends. I am thirty-four years old, and I have no significant health problems (that I know about). That is the reality of the present moment, and I need to remember to be more grateful for all of these things.
So what in this moment is lacking for me?
I know it won’t always be this way, but it is today. And that’s enough for this moment.
(I’ll try not to worry about whether or not you will like this post)