Moving forward

Life has a way of whizzing by us. Perhaps it’s because we don’t pay nearly enough attention to the present moment, or maybe it’s simply because there are just too many things happening at any given moment. Whatever the case, it is daunting to realize that this year we will have children applying to law schools, colleges and high schools. The truth is that time flies whether you’re having fun or not!

I’ve always been a person who sets goals and plans. I knew I was going to be an ophthalmologist when I was four. It was probably because I needed glasses in kindergarten, but I was so intent on it that my mother really believed me. Obviously, somewhere along the line I gave up medicine for other things. And my mom soon realized that while I routinely threw myself completely into whatever it was that interested me, I would just as easily move to something else, and just as wholeheartedly throw myself into the next venture. Changing plans has never been difficult for me; but I would never be caught dead without one. Having a plan--even if just for a little while--has always given me a sense of purpose and security.

It’s hard to convince children that they need to plan ahead. They all expect to have a future, but hardly any of them think they need to do anything to prepare for it. In some ways, I think that’s the beauty of being a child. Kids have difficulty living anywhere but in the present. They are open to what is, and what is unfolding. They are free enough from what is past that two weeks seems a lifetime ago to them. And they are not concerned enough with what will happen in two weeks to worry about it.

For me, though, tomorrow sometimes seems more real than today. I am acutely aware of how fast things creep up on us. Everything seems to arrive suddenly, too suddenly for comfort or adequate planning. But when I look back, I have to wonder how many todays I’ve spent on plans I didn’t stick with, or even wanted to pursue when push came to shove.

One thing even I have learned--despite my drive to plan--is that things have a way of working themselves out. Our eighth grader will graduate and go to high school. In a little more than a year, our senior will find himself waking up in a dorm room at one college or another. And our most recent college graduate will navigate her way through the LSAT’s and personal statements and into the entering class at law school, somewhere.

There is a real tension between doing what we need to do to prepare for what’s ahead and being fully present to what is now. It is this tension that has dogged me personally for years, one that has challenged my desire for control, and nourished any lingering fear of trusting God completely.

Jesus, I think, knew this well when he told his disciples not to worry, and yet to be prepared. God calls us to follow him, but he also instructs us to “be still” so that we may know at the depths of who we are that he is God indeed. The love of Christ impels us, yet we are most like Jesus when we surrender our weaknesses to his strength, our limitations to his glory.

While I’ll push for a draft or two of college essays over the summer, and download all the application forms we could ever possibly need, I don’t intend to act as if God isn’t guiding my children’s next steps. None of us needs to give up the present for the future. We only need to learn the difference between living for the moment and living in the moment. Living for today is futile. But if we can place ourselves in the present moment, we will find grace for today and the presence of the God who moves forward with us, step by step and day by day.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.