Today was a rough day. Without going into great detail, I encountered difficulty with school, formation, all three vows, unavoidable situations and my bracket was seriously ruined in two games. (Seriously Iowa State??) In short, today was a day of penance.
In initial formation, days (or even months) like this can be plentiful. The fact of the matter is, and this doesn’t matter who one’s formator is or what the program is like, formation can be a very frustrating experience because it is but a reflection of the life we were inspired to live. Yes, we are “real” friars and this is “real” life, but in a lot of ways formation does not accurately reflect the day-to-day life that much of us will be living in a just a few short years. This is partly by design. As new friars, we need a little extra oversight, a few more restrictions, more direction and evaluation, and certainly a whole lot of school. There are simply things that have to be different about our life so that we can be ready to live the one we see lived around us.
And while I understand that, it is days like today that make it very hard to see the merit in “the now.” I want to get out of this house and do full time ministry. Why do I have to be stuck here taking stupid tests, writing meaningless evaluations? I want to be with the people of God away from all of this personal attention. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I find it very difficult sometimes to stay focused on the present, and even impossible at times to find the merit in the present when the future captures my attention. Why am I doing THIS when I could be doing THAT?
I think there is a temptation is all of us, not just religious in formation, to see the preparations of life as hoops to jump through. Whether it’s school, job training, internships, or even entire stages of our life (teenage years come to mind), what is ahead always looks more enjoyable than what is directly in front of us, and we count down the days until it is over so that we may begin the “real” task, whatever it may be. At the end of high school, I couldn’t wait for college; at the end of college, I couldn’t wait to enter the friars; even towards the end of that summer in college when I lived at the church, the summer that started my vocation journey and was arguably the greatest time of my entire life, I couldn’t wait to get back to school and move on to the next stage of my life.
In many cases, the preparation period actually is genuinely terrible and it is fitting to look forward to future possibilities. Days like today force my attention away from the present into a future that is much more desirable, frankly, as a way to inspire me to continue on my path forward.
But there is also a great danger in this. For in thinking about the future, I have spent time in the realm of what is truly not real, the possibility of reality, while what is truly real right in front of me has passed by unnoticed. Some go through their entire lives this way, waiting for what is next, having never actually experienced what is now. It is a constant cycle of moving back and forth from day dreaming to nostalgia, from one false reality to another.
The present reality may suck. Seriously. Late nights, difficult work, unfair treatment, bad luck, uncomfortable situations… the whole nine yards. The temptation will be to dwell on what is next and to ask, “When will this end?” Doing so will undoubtedly offer temporary comfort, as most forms of escapism do. But in the end, what fruit will dwelling on the future produce? What we should be asking, what I should be asking on days like today, is not “when will this end?” but “what about this situation, in all of its imperfection and failed expectations, is God revealing himself to me?” Even in the worst of situations, there must be a sense in every moment of every day that God is actively engaging us with his love, breaking into our lives through the ordinary and mundane, to draw us closer to himself. This moment may seem terrible and we cannot wait for it to end, but God is in this moment and in no other. We could spend our entire lives wishing that we lived at a different time in a different situation, but in the end, we were given this moment, and this moment alone, for a reason: to encounter God in a unique way. When we realize this, when we realize the power of the present reality and the possibility that every moment has to be with God in a new and life-giving way, there seems no stranger question to ask than “When will this end?”