Over the years I've used a variety of great devotionals: My Utmost for His Highest, Streams in the Desert, a wonderful little prayer book by the rather controversial theologian H.E. Fosdick, Living the Message by Eugene and Jan Peterson, a Celtic devotional, and the Book of Common Prayer, used in lituergies all over the world. But the devotional I come back to repeatedly, the one I've given as gifts more times than I can count, is Listening to Your Life. It's exerpts from the writings of Frederick Buechner, whose writing always appeals to me. In fact, I've been told once or twice that my voice on the page bears a passing resemblance to his, but this strikes me a little like the way a mud puddle bears a resemblance to a deep fresh mountain lake. A puddle might imagine the clean and pure beauty of that glorious lake, but is bound by the mud in which its bogged. Perhaps this isn't quite an apt analogy--I only mean to acknowledge he lives and breathes and clearly writes in a more rarified air (and depth) than I can, except in my imagination. Nevertheless, I take such compliments as they are meant, and praise God for the gifts He's given, not the ones I wish I had.
All that to say that yesterday, just before drifting off to sleep, I grabbed my well-worn, gnarly-cornered copy of Listening to Your Life (which I also have on my Kindle, for those of you Kindle addicts!), and read the entry for September 1 (a day behind, as usual). Then I chewed and re-chewed on it all night long. It was a perfect Buechner entry, so lovely I cannot help quoting part of it here:
"It is the point from which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious it is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all."
Today. He's talking about this day. This single extraordinary gift of one day at a time that we are given. Each as we live them. God gives us the gift of time. We use up our hours--no, our minutes, our seconds--as they come. They're all we get. In the beginning, in the 'GOD created' first seven days of Genesis, "God set aside a certain day, calling it, 'Today,' " It says in Hebrews 4:7. Because He knew we had to live this way. One at a time would be all we can handle. Not all at once, the way He sees our lives and the world and all of creation. But each day, on its own, a precious, singular gift.
And it's in this singular gift that we can and should expect to hear Him. "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts," is the second part of Hebrews 4:7, and also 3:15, where the phrase, "as you did in the rebellion" is added. Our hearts were hardened against God in the past--in unbelief and rebellion. But TODAY we can start again. We can ask Him to speak into this life He's given. He tells us that too, of course. When asked how to pray, Jesus tells the disciples, in part what we call The Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." This phrase makes us think of the Israelites in the desert being given manna--bread--each day. Never more than what they needed for that day (except for the weekly extra for the Sabbath, but that's a whole different matter). They tried holding onto extra manna for the next day and it rotted on them. Only one day's allotment was provided.
And that's the message here, I think. And one we so often forget. At least I do. It's what I was wrestling with through the night. Some of us (and I am one of these) tend to look backwards so much our necks are sore from twisting. And though I believe there is much to be learned from the past, there is no living there.
Others of us live only for tomorrow, always talking about what they will do, what will happen, how things will be, what might and should and...well, you know who you are and how that is. And there's no way to live in the future, either. It's like living in air. No substance to hold you up.
As Buechner says:
"'This is the day which the Lord has made,,' says the 118th Psalm. 'Let us rejoice and be glad in it.' Or weep and be sad in it for that matter. The point is to see it for what it is because it will be gone before you know it. If you waste it, it is your life you are wasting. If you look the other way, it may be the moment you've been waiting for always that you're missing."
Frederick Buechner, Listening To Your Life, 234.