We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway.
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day.
—Carly Simon, “Anticipation”
I was droning on about past failures and a friend interrupted and said to me, “Andrée, these are the good old days.”
He didn’t have to explain. I knew exactly what he meant. While one is mourning the ship that’s past, one is missing the ship that’s here. And so, as Carly Simon astutely reminds us, it is possible to be with someone and yet not be with that someone in a deeply felt way because one’s mind is elsewhere. It is already on the next chore on the list.
We humans have a tendency to live in the past or to live in the future—everywhere but in the present. We are like a car out of alignment that can hardly keep straight. Tap into your thought life at any given point in your stream of consciousness and see if you catch yourself living in the past or in the future. And when you catch yourself, yank yourself back to the present moment, Mr. Walter Mitty.
This is not to say we are to ignore the future altogether. The intelligent person will understand what Carly is conveying—more importantly, what Jesus is conveying: Don’t worry about the future, don’t obsess about the future, don’t entertain phantoms of hypothetical scenarios of the future that never ever turn out like you expected. This accomplishes nothing and protects you from nothing and adds nothing to your life:
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life” (Matthew 6:27, ESV).
Let us think about the future only insofar as it is useful and right to plan for it.
Likewise, this is not to say we are not to think about the past in a beneficial way. But the beneficial way is only to glean its lessons. We were never meant to live there, either in regret …
“… forgetting what lies behind … I press on …” (Philippians 3:13–14, ESV)
… or in nostalgia:
“Why were the former days better than these?” (Ecclesiastes 7:10, ESV)
Live in the moment, love in the moment, cast your bread upon the waters now. In this way you will not look behind you some sad day and mourn that you had wasted today, and say to yourself, “Those were the good old days. If only I had known.”