It seems to me that for some reason, our culture today is especially anxious about the future, often day-dreaming and dwelling in never-ending “what if” scenarios. I know I’ve been stuck in these loops. So how do we get out? Well, I think typical conventional wisdom would go something like “take it one day at a time,” which can certainly be a healthy way to slow down and process things. I think the Church would say, “pray about it.” As cliché as these answers are, I think they’re both right. Let’s consider some practical advice from Scripture and from some of our great saints.
First, let’s consider what it looks like to pray about our anxieties of the future. The Church has a long-standing spirituality of surrender to Divine Providence, or God’s plan for us:
For I know well the plans I have for you...plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope (Jeremiah 29:11)
For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thought higher than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9)
Meditating on the truth that our God provides for us is a sure way to greater peace in our lives. Jesus often told St. Faustina “fear nothing; I am always with you,” and her response, “Jesus, I trust in you.” Our God does not change, so let’s believe that just as He said to St. Faustina, He also says to us “fear nothing; I am always with you,” and let’s repeat after Faustina, “Jesus I trust in you.” If we truly believe this, we will be able to dwell and rest in the peace of trusting God. In this rest, the Lord will surely teach us how to be able to peacefully take things one day at a time.
Pope St. John XXIII supposedly strove to live a very healthy and stress-free life. Legend has it that when he would retire for the night his prayer would be, “Well Lord, it's your Church, you take care of it; I'm going to sleep.” I don’t think he was just a funny, stress-free guy. I think his ability to keep his light sense of humor was only possible as a result of a life of deep trust in the Lord...he is a saint after all. He had a “daily decalogue” — his own personal ten commandments that he strove to live by. Each one begins with the phrase “only for today.” His first “commandment” touches on exactly what we’re talking about:
Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
He consciously acknowledges “yes, I have a lot of things to deal with” (like we all do), but he also patiently recognizes that he cannot solve everything in one day. He will be patient and trust in the process (Jesus, I trust in you!). He understood that it is easy to become overwhelmed, so every morning he reminded himself to “take it one day at a time.” His last commandment captures his “only for today” charism perfectly:
Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.
The last sentence is especially striking and profound, yet so obvious. For only 12 hours, surely we can do whatever our lives call us to do. I think the last phrase, “were I to believe I had to do it all my life,” is the key to his spirituality. He had himself convinced that all he had to do was make it through the present day, the future had no bearing on his mind, and therefore no power to weigh him down. Some things in our lives can surely crush us if we try to consider the magnitude of having to do it everyday for many years, or even the rest of our lives, but taking things one day at a time, or just the next 12 hours, can definitely lead us to a way of living that emphasizes doing our best each day without getting overwhelmed.
I love another story from the Desert Fathers, a group of early monks around 300-400 A.D.:
A brother spent nine years, tempted to leave the cenobium (monastery). Every day he got his things ready to leave, and when evening came, he would say to himself: “Tomorrow, I go away.” In the morning he again thought to himself: “Let us strive again to hold out today because of the Lord.” And when he had spent nine years in that way, God relieved him of that temptation.
Truly, this brother was living the same spirituality as John XXIII. Perhaps every morning he would tell himself, “only for today will I do this, but surely not for my whole life, this is too hard.” But by persevering like this every day, after nine long years he prevailed.
This is so practical for us! What if instead of having to wake up everyday at 5:00am for work, to take care of the kids, etc. I have myself convinced that I only have to do it for today? Even if I have to do that thing for years, it definitely seems lighter and more bearable that way, and where things are peaceful, we know the Lord is there. How much more present we could be to ourselves, to God, and to those around us by taking each day so intentionally.
So if you remember anything from reading this, remember Faustina’s “Jesus, I trust in you” and John XXIII’s “only for today;” I think these two phrases in tandem, when we are truly convinced when we say them, will change our lives. If all we can say is “Jesus, it’s really hard to trust in you because I have such little faith, but only for today, I will trust you,” I think we can make great progress with Him. Let's always remember the truth that Jesus says to us at every moment "fear nothing; I am always with you."
For those of you that prefer to reflect on art and poetry rather than my musings, I got you this poem by Thérèse of Lisieux:
My Song for Today
Oh! how I love Thee, Jesus! my soul aspires to Thee –
And yet for one day only my simple prayer I pray!
Come reign within my heart, smile tenderly on me,
Today, dear Lord, today.
But if I dare take thought of what the morrow brings –
That fills my fickle heart with dreary, dull dismay;
I crave, indeed, my God, trials and sufferings,
But only for today!
O sweetest Star of heaven! O Virgin, spotless, blest,
Shining with Jesus’ light, guiding to Him my way!
O Mother! ‘neath thy veil let my tired spirit rest,
For this brief passing day!
Soon shall I fly afar among the holy choirs,
Then shall be mine the joy that never knows decay;
And then my lips shall sing, to heaven’s angelic lyres,
The eternal, glad today!
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